Educators, parents react to Denver vaccine mandate for school staff

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Posted at 8:33 PM, Aug 02, 2021

DENVER — Following Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s announcement requiring vaccinations for all City and County employees, workers in congregate care settings and school staff, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association says it’s left people “scrambling to try to figure out what to do.”

“It came as a complete surprise to all of us today,” said Rob Gould with the DCTA, a teachers union representing nearly 4,000 educators.

The public health order includes all teachers and staff who work in the City and County of Denver at both public and private schools. Employees must be vaccinated by Sept. 30.

It comes as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to grow across the state, with 90% of the new cases caused by the delta variant and 96% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Colorado not being fully vaccinated, according to Hancock. Full vaccination, according to Executive Director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Bob McDonald, is “the only way we are all going to pull out of this."

Hancock was not specific about what would happen if employees who did not have a valid exemption refused to follow the public health order, but did say "there might be some folks who may lose their jobs."

Gould said their legal counsel is looking over the public health order and working with Denver Public Schools to see how it will affect their members.

“We’ve been pushing for not just our teachers to get vaccinated but also our students and the community at large, and I think we’ve had some success with that, and it happens with ongoing conversations versus mandates,” Gould said. “That’s what we have to figure out. We don’t know what it means. According to the mayor, it could possibly mean their job, and that shouldn’t be a choice that anybody had to make during this time.”

Gould is concerned it may lead to a teacher or personnel shortage — an issue he says DPS has had “often” — if people choose to work somewhere outside of Denver because of the mandate.

DPS confirmed Monday their human resources team received about 25 resignations Monday, however, a spokesperson for the district said it’s not an uncommon occurrence because Monday was the first working day after the previous work year calendar ended on July 31. In a follow-up email from the district, the spokesperson said the majority of the resignations “are cleaning up the end of contract date of July 31, 2021,” and the resignation notifications “do not specifically state the vaccine requirement being the reason why they are leaving.”

DPS said it’s “in close collaboration” with the city on the new public health order to determine how to ensure safe and healthy conditions this school year, but it has yet to release guidance on how it will approach health procedures and requirements, like mask-wearing.

For some parents, like Jessica Jordan, the announcement brought welcome relief.

“It will just give everyone, I think, a peace of mind knowing that everyone is vaccinated there,” Jordan said. “As a parent, it is a little bit scary to think about the delta variant, but any protection we can get for everyone, I’m for it.”

She understands why school staff might not be happy with the requirement, but she thinks it’s important to do everything to keep kids safe and healthy, especially for kids under 12 years old, like her daughter.

“She’s not able to get the vaccination, so any protection that she can get from others being vaccinated, it makes me a little bit more at ease.”

In regards to private, catholic schools in the City and County of Denver, the Archdiocese of Denver said it’s still reviewing and processing the public health order.

Denver7 reporter Liz Gelardi contributed to this report.