The Orange Board of Education recently approved a policy that would require all unvaccinated employees to submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. President of the Orange Teachers Association David Miller later released a statement expressing disappointment in the lack of collaboration from the superintendent and the school board before the policy was approved.

The vote was 4-0 and Board President Rebecca Boyle was absent from the Oct. 25 meeting, but she said she supports the testing policy. The goal of the policy, board members said, is to encourage staff members to get vaccinated and prevent the spread of the virus if someone is asymptomatic.

“The Orange Teachers Association has asked the superintendent and Board of Education to collaborate on developing practices and protocols that affect the health and safety of our students and staff. Ohio law requires that all changes in working conditions be negotiated between the board and the OTA through the collective bargaining process,” Mr. Miller wrote in a statement last week.

“The OTA is disappointed by the decision of the superintendent and the Orange Board of Education to forgo collaboration and ignore applicable labor laws in order to unilaterally implement a vaccine and testing mandate through policy,” he wrote.

Dr. Boyle clarified that there is no vaccine mandate. The policy requires those who are unvaccinated to be tested weekly for COVID-19. Superintendent Lynn Campbell previously shared that about 90 percent of the teachers union is vaccinated.

“I have been collaborating with all of the unions and will continue to do so, and I am confident that we can move forward in the best interest of the health and safety of our students and staff,” Dr. Campbell said on Tuesday in a written statement. “During negotiations, OTA President David Miller spoke at a board meeting praising the board and administration for all of the efforts and collaboration it took to keep us safe.

“Please know that to that end, I will continue to endeavor to collaborate while at the same time implementing a layered approach to mitigating the impact of COVID-19 with continued ongoing guidance from public health officials,” Dr. Campbell wrote. “All of our employees, OTA members included, have been amazing and supportive of efforts thus far, and I look forward to continuing on that path.”

Employees who are vaccinated with a fully approved COVID-19 vaccine do not need to be tested weekly. The only vaccine that received full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at this time is Pfizer-BioNTech. People vaccinated with Moderna and Johnson & Johnson must still be tested weekly, according to the policy, because those vaccines only have emergency authorization.

This relates to House Bill 244, which prohibits mandates for vaccines that are not fully approved by the FDA. Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bill into law in June. Many Orange employees were vaccinated at the Cuyahoga County Educational Service Center, which administered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“We believe testing is the bare minimum teachers and employees can do to keep our kids safe,” Dr. Boyle said on Monday. “We don’t think it’s unreasonable.”

Mr. Miller said the teachers union hopes for more collaboration with the school board and superintendent.

“We expect the board and superintendent to sit down with us and bargain the effects of that policy they want to implement and that’s required under Ohio labor laws,” Mr. Miller said last week. “We’re waiting to do that.”

It is unclear what the consequences may be if an unvaccinated employee will not submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. The policy does not include definite consequences.

“We passed the policy. How it’s implemented is between the administration and the unions. They have to decide that,” Dr. Boyle said.

There is also a union for administrative assistants and paraprofessionals and a third union for bus drivers, custodians and maintenance workers. At the Oct. 25 board meeting when this policy was approved, about 25 teachers wearing matching shirts gathered to hear the vote. Mr. Miller said the teachers attended the meeting to “show support for collaborative discussions going forward.”

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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