Georgetown County School District prepares for possible COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 6:55 PM EDT
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PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. (WMBF) - In many counties across South Carolina, the largest employer is often a local school district.

Now many are realizing that President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine or testing mandate for employers with more than 100 employees could soon apply to them.

“At first I think the general feeling was around the state, including from the state department of education, was that it was not going to apply to local education agencies in South Carolina,” said Lindsay Anne Thompson said, Legal Counsel for the Georgetown County School District,

The State Department of Education first told WMBF News last week that the Biden Administration’s vaccine mandate wouldn’t apply to school districts. Upon further review this week, the SCDOE realized that wasn’t true.

They explained because of how OSHA regulates school districts in South Carolina, teachers and staff would be required to either get vaccinated against COVID-19 or get tested every week if the mandate goes through.

South Carolina is just one of 26 states to have this relationship between schools and OSHA, which is enough to cause the Georgetown County School District to begin preparations.

Thompson says they’re aware many will challenge the mandate and file lawsuits, including some South Carolina politicians, but they’re coming up with a plan now anyway.

“The question becomes, will it even last long enough before it’s challenged in federal court for us to implement it, assuming that it will be coming through,” she added.

They’re in the process of streamlining a plan with DHEC to have COVID-19 testing sites at all 4 district high schools for staff members who opt to get tested rather than vaccinate.

They’re not tracking how many are vaccinated just yet.

Through contact tracing, Thompson says they have a record of 200 vaccinated staff members.

If it doesn’t get struck down in the courts, she also says the district just wouldn’t have the cash not to comply.

”That would be a significant hit to our budget and not somewhere where we want to spend our money,” said Thompson. “We want to spend our money in our classrooms and on our teachers and staff, and make sure our students have the best instruction as possible. We don’t want to spend it on 14 thousand dollars, per employee per site whatever it is.”

When it comes to exemptions, Thompson said she expects those who would be exempt from the vaccine for medical or religious purposes would be accommodated through testing. She doesn’t believe anyone would be exempt from both the vaccine and testing.

Thompson said they expect to have a ruling from OSHA in mid-October, and then would have 75 days before it gets enforced. She said that’s when legal challenges will likely come forward.

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