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Providence City Council calls for vaccine requirements for K-12 teachers, school employees

Exemptions could be made for employees with medical or religious restrictions

Councilman John Goncalves, of Ward 1, proposed a resolution Thursday night asking Governor Dan McKee and Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green to impose a statewide policy mandating all K-12 teachers and school employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

PROVIDENCE — Just a week after the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate deadline had passed for health care workers, Providence city councilors are calling for Rhode Island to require vaccines for all K-12 school teachers and staff in the city.

Councilman John Goncalves, of Ward 1, proposed a resolution asking Governor Dan McKee and Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green Thursday night to impose a statewide policy mandating all teachers and school employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine or comply with weekly testing.

The COVID-19 vaccine, “is the best way for school employees to protect themselves as well as the students they serve,” Goncalves said. “With many Providence students still too young for vaccination, it is important to ensure that teachers who care for these children all day, five days a week, do not go unvaccinated and untested.”

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But McKee’s spokeswoman Alana O’Hare told the Globe that the governor’s stance “has not changed.”

“We’ll do the best we can without any level of mandates,” said McKee when asked on Tuesday if there would be a vaccine mandate for schools. “We’ll continue to keep kids safe in the schools.”

O’Hare said that about 90 percent of teachers have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, without a mandate.

General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, who is also challenging McKee in the gubernatorial race next year, wrote on Twitter Friday that a vaccine mandate would be the “right thing to do.”

“We should be taking every reasonable step to make school safe for kids, including a vaccine requirement for adults who work in the building,” Magaziner wrote. “In the words of [President Biden], ‘Here’s the deal... these requirements work.’”

Providence County has been classified as an area of “substantial” COVID-19 transmission by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). But throughout the entire state, Rhode Island has “high” COVID-19 transmission.

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Other states in the northeast, including New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Delaware, have required their K-12 teachers to get vaccinated or have weekly tests. Other states, such as California and some school districts in Massachusetts, have said eligible students should be required to be vaccinated.

City councilors said Thursday their resolution indicates that exemptions could be made for those with “legitimate medical or religious restrictions.”

“The School Board is working directly with the Superintendent and senior leadership at PPSD to support the District’s ongoing vaccination efforts,” said Kinzel Thomas, president of the Providence School Board in a statement. “Increasing vaccination uptake is an important way to improve safety in our schools and we look forward to working collaboratively with our school partners to enhance uptake.”

This resolution was co-sponsored by Councilwoman Kat Kerwin, of Ward 12; Councilman Oscar Vargas, of Ward 15; Councilwoman Helen Anthony, of Ward 2; Councilor Rachel Miller, of Ward 13; Councilor David Salvatore, of Ward 14; and Councilman Michael Correia, of Ward 6.


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.