Jackson Public Schools administrative building Credit: Jackson Public Schools

Eighty-one percent of Jackson Public Schools employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 after the district set a deadline of Nov. 1 for staff to get the shots.

Of the district’s 3,468 employees, 512 remain unvaccinated. Three-hundred are tested weekly, according to Sherwin Johnson, executive director of public engagement for JPS.

Just over half of Hinds County residents are fully vaccinated, according to the Mississippi Department of Health.

The Board of Trustees approved the policy in September, shortly after Natchez-Adams School District passed a vaccine incentive policy. That district also set a deadline of Nov. 1.

The JPS policy also says that if a fully vaccinated employee contracts COVID-19 that person will be entitled to paid leave. 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.

Several other school districts, such as Biloxi, Bay St. Louis-Waveland and Kosciusko are using federal COVID-19 relief funds to incentivize staff to get vaccinated but have stopped short of requiring the vaccination.

They all cited the loss of instructional time as a result of quarantining or sick teachers and students as one major reason for encouraging staff get vaccinated.

Jackson Public Schools and Natchez-Adams School District are the only districts the Mississippi Department of Education is aware of that have implemented such a requirement, according to Department spokeswoman Jean Cook.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that 81 percent of staff, not 91 percent, are fully vaccinated.

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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.