OVERLAND PARK, KS (KCTV) — The Shawnee Mission School District is the first Johnson County district to announce it is considering a vaccine mandate for its staff.

The discussion item on Monday’s agenda was pulled at the start of the meeting because Board President Heather Ousley was absent due to a medical emergency and several others were either absent or available only by phone. The board felt the topic was too important to not have everyone there.

Before that, however, a parent and employee shared strong opposing opinions during public comment.

“Because of the pandemic, we are constantly short: short on staff, food, supplies, and sadly, sometimes, patience,” said Lisa Feingold, a staff member in nutritional services.

She said she and other classified employees work without union representation, without the same pay and benefits teachers have, and interact with hundreds of students per day. She described a vaccination mandate for staff as the next logical step in providing a safe environment for students and staff.

“Without the precautionary measures this board has implemented this far, many of us would no longer be working here,” Feingold asserted.

But, a SMSD parent told the board she’s afraid the opposite will be true for some staff.

“Please do not force our teachers and staff to choose between the vaccine risks or keeping their job. We will lose many wonderful educators,” Keri Ivie speculated.

District Spokesman David Smith said this spring the district estimated at least 80% of staff were already vaccinated voluntarily.

He said they worked hard with clinics to get to that number, but they’d like to see that number higher. So, they’re considering all options -- one of which is a vaccine mandate for staff.

A mandate could take many forms. For example, like other employers, they could offer routine testing as an alternative or require the vaccine with few exceptions. It’s not a given that they would create any level of mandate, but Smith said the board feel like it’s time to start discussing it in an open forum.

“What would it look like? What would the implications of doing that be? Is it something we can sustain? Are there downsides?” Smith said, listing topics to be discussed.

It’s not clear when that agenda item will return, but Smith said when it does, it will just be discussion, nothing for a vote yet.

Last week President Joe Biden announced a sweeping set of new vaccine mandates for certain private employers as well as tougher mandates for federal employees and contractors.

Smith said it does not appear to apply to K-12 school staff in Kansas or Missouri. It might apply to staff at Head Start programs in pre-K, but districts are still seeking guidance on that.

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