A needles is prepared to administer the Pfizer vaccine for motorists seeking a vaccination at New Hope Baptist Church Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021 in Jackson. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

The Natchez-Adams School District is incentivizing employees to get vaccinated by Nov. 1 and requiring those that don’t to submit to twice-weekly testing.

Employees who get vaccinated by Nov. 1 will be eligible for a monetary incentive, an additional day of personal leave and a half day off work to receive each injection of the vaccine. Natchez-Adams is the first known school district in the state to implement such a program.

The goal, according to the document, is to achieve a 100% vaccination rate among all employees. There is a process for employees with medical and religious reasons to be exempted.

“This is going to be a long-term issue, and the best way to secure the health and safety of the children is to make sure we leave no stone unturned … so we can say we did the best we can for parents to ensure when they send their child to school they’re going to be safe,” said Phillip West, the vice-chair of the school board and the main driver behind a push for a vaccination requirement, during the board’s discussion of the plan, which passed 4-0.

Administrators and board leaders are now setting up meetings at schools to talk to them about the importance of being vaccinated.

Several board members and Superintendent Fred Butcher also discussed other COVID-19 protocols the schools have been taking to ensure students and staff are safe, including universal masking throughout the summer and during the school year and air purification efforts.

Butcher said during the meeting that the district is transparent about its COVID-19 data. However, the district did not report COVID-19 data for all of its schools to the Mississippi Department of Health for the week ending Aug. 20, so a complete picture of the district’s cases is not available. Butcher did not immediately provide those numbers when asked on Wednesday.

While the audio of the board’s Zoom meeting was unclear at times, Butcher did say several times “some people can’t get the vaccine” and once told West the principals of the schools “know who’s been vaccinated and who’s not.”

“People have all kinds of different reasons why they’re not being vaccinated,” Butcher said at one point. He then said he would do whatever the board asked of him.

Cecile Bunch, another board member, said the new policy was “a step in the right direction.”

As of Tuesday, 35% of Adams County residents are fully vaccinated, compared to the statewide vaccination rate of 38%.

The city of Jackson recently announced it would require employees to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. Last week the University of Mississippi Medical Center announced a new vaccination policy that will require employees and students to get fully vaccinated by Nov. 1.

In the Jackson Public School District, leaders are considering mandating vaccines but have not taken any steps yet to require it.

At a school board meeting on Tuesday, Superintendent Errick Greene said they’ve had several conversations internally about the possibility of mandating the COVID-19 vaccination for staff. He also said they’ve consulted with attorneys and have been advised there is nothing that would legally prohibit them from making such a requirement.

“We’re not yet at the point where we’re making a recommendation to mandate vaccines … I want to hear some more from staff and parents,” he said.

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.