RAIYA KHAN/SAGAMORE STAFF
The School Policy Review Subcommittee convened virtually via Zoom on Sep. 13 at 6 p.m. to discuss the possibility of mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for all students in Public Schools of Brookline (PSB) and how to incorporate students who are absent into the classroom.
The suggestion of the student mandate came three days after the Brookline School Committee (BSC) voted unanimously to mandate all PSB staff and faculty to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 1, 2021.
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released suggested COVID-19 policies and recommendations towards all districts. Many towns have considered a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for students, even though DESE has not explicitly recommended it.
Coordinator of Student Health Services Tricia Laham said there are many students that are involved in close-contact activities, which increases the need for this vaccine mandate.
“The activities where you are breathing heavily or you are potentially fitting in these categories (where you and everyone else is at a higher rate of COVID-19 transmission) doing all kinds of activities, would have a better reasoning (for providing a mandate) for a COVID-19 vaccine,” Laham said.
Laham said it would be better to wait for a state-wide trend of mandating student vaccinations or an official recommendation by DESE until the BSC considers a student vaccine mandate.
“There is a student vaccine mandate right now [in Lexington Public Schools], so it does not mean they are not out there,” Laham said. “It is just what I happened to come across when I was looking. So I would like to wait for something from the state and DESE for some direction.”
BSC member Steven Ehrenberg said the challenges of encouraging students who feel sick to stay home is dependent on the district’s absence and remote learning policies.
“I would love to take a step back and acknowledge that if there were the technology to provide any absent child with the meaningful learning experience as meaningful as the one that is face-to-face in the classroom, then absences in general would be an entirely different phenomenon [than what they are today],” Ehrenberg said.
Deputy Superintendent of Student Services Casey Ngo-Miller said the possibility of mandating students to get a COVID-19 vaccine could depend on the number of and type of activities a student is exposed to and involved in.
“There is a partial [idea of having a] mandate that is doing it on an activities-based level of categorization with activity-based metrics,” Ngo-Miller said. “Student athletes participate in voluntary activities and I believe that that’s how [districts like Lexington] are navigating their mandate in lieu of a broader statewide policy. I think it’s worth exploring the contours of that and how they are doing it.”
Co-chair of the BSC David Pearlman said the challenges of having absent students when no remote option is available is something for the subcommittee to consider.
“What is it that educators would be expected to provide for absent students? How much of it is just a sense that it’s not pedagogically appropriate to be offering live streaming [to classes] via Zoom?” Pearlman asked.
Pearlman said addressing the current repercussions for students staying home from school is also very important for the subcommittee to discuss.
“I do not want our students to effectively be punished for acting responsibly and staying home from school. I am hearing that we do have students who are testing positive. We do have staff that are testing positive [as well],” Pearlman said. “I think it’s critically important that we ensure that they remain as connected as safely as possible.”