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Blaine School Trustees Discuss Vaccine Policy
Thursday, October 14, 2021


An item on the Blaine County School District’s agenda Tuesday night attracted a flurry of comments. But many had misunderstood the “Mandatory Vaccination policy” as applying towards students.

“We have nothing under consideration that would require COVID vaccinations for students, although that’s not to say that in the future it won’t happen, said School Board President Keith Roark. “What is on the agenda Is a mandatory vaccination policy for staff and staff only. We have already adopted a policy that new hires have to be vaccinated before they can begin employment with the district.”

Roark said the proposed policy requiring COVID-19 vaccines for all staff may be necessary to keep schools open.

“I don’t want to force anybody to do anything but…students can’t achieve if they do not have teachers in front of the class teaching, if we don’t have bus drivers to get them to and from the schools,” he said.

Roark emphasized the need to be prepared because no one can foretell where the pandemic is headed.

“Look at where we were a year ago. All of us were hoping we’d seen the worst. Now we’re in a situation where our risk level is higher than a year ago,” he said. “(Not having a vaccine policy in place should it be needed) is like saying that if you live in Kansas you’re not going to build a tornado shelter until you’re hit with a tornado.”

A survey in early September garnered 475 responses from the district’s 523 employees, said Brooke Marshall, the district’s Human Resources director. Of those who responded, 442 said they were fully vaccinated. Some staff have expressed concerns about unvaccinated staff, she added.

The new policy regarding new hires asks them to present proof of vaccination or present a request for an exemption based on credible medical or religious reasons, she said.

“The focus is on the public health aspect—we haven’t seen anything like this pandemic before,” she added.

Marshall added that the district’s legal counsel Jill Holinka has fully vetted the legality and constitutionality of requiring teachers to get a COVID-19 vaccination and determined that such requirements are legal.

“What’s been lost in the discussion is that mandatory vaccinations have been a part of school policies throughout the United States for decades,” said Roark, an attorney himself. “This is nothing new. Vaccinations for school purposes have been challenged before and courts have said that schools have the right to do that but that they do have to provide exemptions…”

Trustee Amber Larna, of Carey, said she thought the district was overreaching.

“I’m against mandating a vaccine that’s so new and whose effects and side effects are still being studied,” she said.

Larna went on to say that there are reasons that some employees have chosen not to get vaccinated and that a religious or health issue should not be the only reason to listen to them.

Roark responded that only one teacher had commented on the proposal to require that teachers be vaccinated and that many of the 300 comments had come from people who don’t live in the district.

Trustees did not vote on the vaccination proposal. But Roark said it was important to be prepared to enact a vaccine requirement should conditions warrant it.

“Our hope is that all our staff will pursue vaccination,” he added.

Roark said the school district cannot tell parents and students what do off school property. But those who choose not to be vaccinated are not making the decision solely for themselves, he added. Instead,  they’re making it for everyone in the school.

“When teachers come into the classroom, they have the right to know that the board has considered every measure and enacted every measure to protect them,” he said. “I’m committed to the proposition that we want the kids in the classroom. We want them to be safe. We want the teachers to be safe. We want the bus drivers to be safe.”


BCSD Board President Keith Roark told those attending Tuesday night’s school board meeting by ZOOM that the district is averaging 94 percent attendance.

“Whether you’re for it or oppose it, the mask mandate has worked,” he said, noting that some other Idaho school districts have closed down for days at a time due to COVID and that one school superintendent died of COVID. “Ninety-four percent attendance is phenomenal when you realize a year ago we were in a hybrid program.”

As of Wednesday the school district’s COVID-19 dashboard showed it had nine students with COVID of about 3316 students; three of 523 staff were out with COVID. Forty-one students were in quarantine because of close contact with someone with COVID and zero staff were in quarantine.

Roark noted that Alturas Elementary had to shut down for a few days last year but this year has  managed to keep students in class.

“We haven’t shut down a single classroom,” he said. “We’ve got tremendous success here.”





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