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Amherst-Pelham school district takes steps toward COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students

Doses of the Pfizer vaccine are seen inside The Salvation Army Boston Kroc Center in August.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The Amherst-Pelham Regional School District is poised to require eligible students get vaccinated against COVID-19, a move that could encourage other school districts across Massachusetts to follow suit.

The Amherst-Pelham school committee is scheduled to set a timeline for the mandate on Sept. 23, which could make the district among the first in the state to require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The move could open the doors for more Massachusetts communities to mandate students be vaccinated to enroll and attend public schools, and many districts, including Boston, are weighing such options.

Amherst-Pelham’s mandate would come on the heels of a vote last Thursday by the school board of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the country’s second largest district, to require vaccines for students age 12 and up who are attending in-person classes. Many Massachusetts districts, including Boston, Newton, and Lexington, already have enacted similar vaccine mandates for public school teachers and staff members.

The Amherst Board of Health unanimously voted last week to add COVID-19 vaccines to the immunization requirements for public school students. It’s not yet clear whether school districts can mandate vaccines for students, or whether the decision will fall on local health authorities.


Amherst’s mandate would only apply to COVID-19 vaccines that have been fully approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. The vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech received full FDA approval for ages 16 and up in August, and the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have FDA emergency use authorization for those 18 and up.

Superintendent Michael Morris said other town and school leaders have reached out asking about the process for setting a vaccine mandate.

“Different districts are approaching it differently,” he said.

In Boston, Acting Mayor Kim Janey and the Boston Public Health Commission are “currently exploring legal options for a local COVID-19 school vaccination requirement,” according to a city spokesperson, who said that city vaccine requirements are set by Massachusetts general law.


“Boston Public Schools and the City of Boston are committed to ensuring the health and safety of our students,” the spokesperson said in an e-mail. “In the Boston community, we continue to educate our young people about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and are focused on expanding access to vaccinations by hosting and promoting Back to School vaccine clinics.”

In Belmont, the school committee cosigned a letter this week urging state legislators to “explore options for the State to issue a vaccine mandate for eligible students as a requirement for school attendance,” Meghan Moriarty, secretary of the Belmont School Committee, wrote in an e-mail.

Worcester School Committee member Tracy O’Connell Novick tweeted that the city’s school committee made the same request of their legislative delegation at its last meeting.

Meanwhile, the Lexington School Committee unanimously approved mandatory vaccinations for eligible students in extracurriculars and sports Aug. 31, according to The Lexington Observer.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has repeatedly called for a vaccine requirement for all eligible students in public schools and colleges. The union’s board of directors voted in mid-August to approve a motion supporting a vaccine requirement.

“We must do everything in our power to protect students, educators, public health, and all of our communities — including communities of color, which, because of structural racism, have been hit the hardest by the coronavirus pandemic,” said MTA president Merrie Najimy said in a statement after the August vote.


Diti Kohli can be reached at diti.kohli@globe.com.Follow her on Twitter @ditikohli_.