SAINT LOUIS, Mo. — As school starts in August for Missouri children, many parents are wondering about the health and safety of their classrooms.
COVID-19 vaccines are not currently mandatory for Missouri public schools, school faculty or staff members, wrote Mallory McGowin, the chief communications officer for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
However, she goes on to write that DESE has stressed the importance of COVID-19 vaccines, noting that vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CDC indicates that schools can promote vaccinations and the Normandy School District took that to heart.
"We're taking COVID-19 very seriously," said Marcus Robinson, superintendent of Normandy schools. "Since the vaccine is available, we want to maximize the number of folks who work with kids who have been vaccinated against this deadly disease."
The school board voted to offer a $750 incentive to any employee who can demonstrate they've been appropriately vaccinated. That means teachers, bus drivers, custodians, and more. So far, 62 percent of the roughly 400-person staff have proven they are fully vaccinated. Robinson says more staff have started the process.
Deciding on the actual dollar amount was arbitrary, but it was enough to sound attractive to staff members.
"We knew we couldn't do anything close to what the state incentive is at $10,000 or the million-dollar lottery of Ohio," said Robinson. "But we know our employees well enough to know that they already care about the kids, and so if we gave them a boost--even a slight boost--they would do the right thing."
The Joplin school district in the southern part of the state is offering incentives for the COVID shot, including a few $2,500 cash prizes.
Robinson says while there are no cash incentives offered to students, he is also hopeful eligible children will get the vaccine.
"We're certainly disappointed that more African American students haven't been vaccinated in St. Louis County," said Robinson. "So we are providing access to vaccinations at our Rock the Block enrollment parties." Those parties will ensure that children 12 and older have access to the vaccine.
Though districts have the right to make the vaccine mandatory like other vaccines required for students, it is not a popular choice to mandate a COVID-19 vaccine. Some experts say that may change if the FDA grants full approval of the vaccine. Right now it is currently authorized for emergency use.
For Normandy schools, it's about helping people reach the right decision for them.
"We know that there can be breakthrough cases of COVID-19 even when you're vaccinated, but those people don't die," said Robinson. "We want to save lives, and we want to keep our kids safe."
School starts for Normany on August 23. The district also has job openings going into the new school year.