Vaccine mandate: 87% of Denver schools staff fully vaccinated, district says

A nurse fills a syringe with COVID-19 vaccine.

As of Thursday’s deadline, Denver Public Schools reported that 87% of its staff complied with a city health order to verify that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Unvaccinated employees could lose their jobs — but not until Jan. 1. That’s more leeway than the city of Denver is giving its unvaccinated workers.

Three percent of school district employees were granted religious or medical exemptions from the public health order, the district said. It plans to send the remaining 10% of employees who are out of compliance a reminder Friday and a letter of reprimand on Monday, according to a notice the district’s human resources department sent to district employees and posted online

Most of the unvaccinated employees are operational staff, such as custodians and food service workers, and part-time or temporary workers, district spokesperson Michael Vaughn said.

The health department order set a Sept. 30 deadline for Denver Public Schools’ 13,781 employees to show proof that they are fully vaccinated. The district will notify employees who don’t comply by Nov. 18 that they’ll lose their jobs on Jan. 2 if they don’t get fully vaccinated by Jan. 1, the district notice says. The district will post those employees’ jobs as open after Nov. 18 — and if a position is filled before an employee is vaccinated, the employee may lose it.

District spokesperson Michael Vaughn said the timeline “is intended to help ensure we don’t experience any staffing shortages that would affect the services we provide to our students and families.” Due in part to the pandemic, Denver Public Schools is already short staffed for several jobs, including bus drivers, nurses, and substitute teachers.

Starting Friday, unvaccinated district employees must get tested for COVID every week on their own time through COVIDCheck Colorado, which offers free testing. Employees must submit the first test results to the district by Oct. 8. Unvaccinated employees also will have to wear masks on the job. Denver Public Schools already requires any students or staff working inside schools to be masked, regardless of whether they’re vaccinated.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced the vaccine order in August. It applies to staff at all schools in the city, including private schools and colleges. It also covers all city employees and people who work in high-risk occupations and settings, including child care.

As of Thursday’s deadline, 98.7% of the city of Denver’s full-time employees had complied, data posted by the city shows. The percentage of all city employees, including part-time employees, who are fully vaccinated was not immediately available.

The city’s penalties for non-compliance are harsher than Denver Public Schools’. City employees who refuse to get vaccinated under any circumstances will be fired, according to a spokesperson for the city attorney’s office. Employees who simply haven’t complied will be suspended for 10 days without pay, with an exception for those who are close to being fully vaccinated. The city has said it will fire any suspended employee who hasn’t complied after the 10 days. 

The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment also allows fines of up to $5,000 against people or entities that don’t comply with the order.

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