Durham school leaders discuss logistics of vaccine mandate for teachers

COVID-19 and schools

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – The Durham Public School Board of Education held a special meeting Tuesday night to discuss vaccines and hear from the ABC Science Collaborative.

No official decisions came from the meeting, but the board discussed the logistics of a teacher vaccine mandate and what steps would need to come first, including finding out how many teachers are vaccinated.

Pascal Mubenga, the Superintendent of Durham Public Schools, said he expects to have that number in two or three weeks. He said the process will start this week.

“Our board was very clear tonight, we’re gonna mandate to get this data from our teachers,” Mubenga said.

As for a vaccine mandate, Bettina Umstead, the chair of the board, said they first need to know how many teachers are vaccinated. After that, she said she wants to find out why the staff is hesitant, if there are incentives that would help, and what the process would be for religious and medical exemptions.

“We want to make sure that our educators are on board with what we’re doing, so having conversations with them along the way will be really important.”

Missy Honeycutt is the parent of an eighth-grader and two third-graders in Durham Public Schools. She said she does not want to know the vaccination status of teachers.

“We have a lot of great teachers, we really do, and if that’s their choice to not get vaccinated, then we can’t afford to lose those teachers.”

In response to board member’s questions, Dr. David Weber with the ABC Science Collaborative said a teacher vaccine mandate would not only protect the vaccinated person, but also other staff and students in school.

“I’m feeling really comfortable that we need to head towards that direction because it’s going to be another layer of protection for our students and for our staff,” Mubenga said.

A teacher vaccine mandate is the board’s decision. There’s currently no scheduled vote on it.

The board meeting came following a long morning for many Durham families. Bus routes were delayed due to a “significant” shortage of drivers.

Mubenga said the district has 20 bus driver vacancies, and some drivers called out sick Tuesday.

He said he planned to bring recommendations to the board to raise bus driver pay, but due to it being a special meeting, items are not allowed to be added to the agenda.

Chip Sudderth, Durham Public Schools Chief Communications Officer, said the district has boosted the starting salaries for drivers in the past couple of years, but this proposal would make the salary more competitive in all years.

He wouldn’t say how much the raise would be ahead of the proposal being shared with drivers Wednesday but said the salaries would be within a few cents per hour of Wake County school bus drivers at nearly every level. According to district websites, DPS bus drivers start at $16.25 an hour and can make up to $20.50. WCPSS bus drivers start at $15.00 an hour and can make up to $23.37.

Mubenga said the proposal to raise bus driver pay will be on next week’s work session agenda.

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