Jackson Public Schools administrative building Credit: Jackson Public Schools

All employees in the Jackson Public School District are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing after the Board of Trustees unanimously approved a new policy at its meeting Tuesday night.

Employees have until Oct. 1 to be fully vaccinated.

The policy also says that if a fully vaccinated employee contracts COVID-19 that person will be entitled to paid leave. However, unvaccinated employees will not receive that benefit, unless they are legally exempt because of a medical issue or sincerely held religious belief, per federal law.

“As a result of the aggressive delta variant and recent data on its impact on children, specifically those pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, the administration is compelled to introduce this policy,” Superintendent Errick Greene told board members. “We the administration and the JPS community endeavor to keep the health and safety of our scholars a priority.”

Employees will also be required to show proof of vaccination, said Greene.

The district will cover the costs of testing for unvaccinated teachers and staff, spokesperson Sherwin Johnson said.

Board members thanked Greene and the district for moving quickly on the policy.

“I am very proud and glad to see the urgency with which the district has pursued this policy and is bringing it before the board,” said Robert Luckett. “The bottom line is the safety of our students, scholars and entire community is of fundamental importance to the work we do. I believe this is an absolutely necessary step.”

The move follows on the heels of Natchez-Adams School District, which adopted a similar policy last month. Natchez-Adams’ policy also includes incentives for staff and teachers to get vaccinated. For those who don’t, they must submit to testing twice a week.

It is unclear if any other districts have adopted similar vaccine requirements.

Some school districts also recently indicated plans to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to incentivize teachers and staff to get vaccinated. Several are offering payments of as much as $1,000 for those who get the shots but stopping short of passing any requirements.

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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.