Teachers and staff at Portland Public Schools will be required to show proof of vaccination before classes resume next month, the first district in the state to mandate vaccines for its employees. 

Portland joins a small but growing list of school districts in mostly left-leaning cities (and in California’s case, states) that have mandated vaccines for employees. Others include Denver, Washington, DC and San Francisco, but more districts are expected to follow suit in coming days. 

Infection disease experts have repeatedly said that the best—but not only—way to protect children under 12 who are not yet vaccinated from COVID-19 is for the adults around them to be vaccinated .

Speaking with reporters last week, Gov. Kate Brown said that it would be up to local superintendents to decide whether to move forward with vaccine mandates, a move that is likely to find more political favor in more progressive—and already highly vaccinated—communities like Portland.  

That raises the possibility that students in more conservative-learning Southern and Eastern Oregon, where vaccination rates are far lower and case counts are skyrocketing, may be more likely to be exposed to unvaccinated teachers and staff in school buildings. 

There is an out for Portland Public Schools employees who are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons—they will be subject to “regular” testing, though it is unclear how frequent that will be. Other employees who are not yet vaccinated will also undergo regular testing, “until proof of vaccination is submitted.” 

A district spokeswoman did not immediately respond to questions from Portland Monthly about whether there was a cut-off date beyond which employees without a medical exemption would face termination if they do not get the shot. Sometimes, vaccine mandates include an exemption for those with “sincerely held religious beliefs” that preclude vaccines, but the district made no mention of that on Wednesday. 

A 1989 Oregon law expressly exempts health care workers, firefighters, police and corrections officers from employer vaccine mandates  but does not mention school district employees. 

The district said Wednesday that it is also “finalizing details on vaccine requirements for school volunteers and contractors.”  

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