Baltimore County Public Schools announced Tuesday that all employees must provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination before the start of the fall semester or submit to weekly testing.
“We are creating this requirement to protect the health, safety, and well-being of our students and staff during this continuing pandemic,” said Superintendent Darryl L. Williams in a news release. “The move is aligned with our commitment to provide in-person instruction throughout the 2021-2022 school year. Vaccination remains the most effective means of preventing COVID-19 transmission. I encourage everyone eligible to get vaccinated.”
School officials made the decision with guidance from Johns Hopkins University and University of Maryland medical experts as well as Baltimore County’s health officer, Gregory Wm. Branch, according to the release.
The mandate announcement also included statements of support from the unions representing Baltimore County teachers, administrators and staff.
“Our collective stance is that we feel vaccinations provide a safe and healthy work environment,” said Nick Argyros of Baltimore County Public Schools Organization of Professional Employees. “Mandatory vaccinations would help our staff stay healthy so we can succeed in our business of educating children.”
The announcement comes several weeks after the school system confirmed that it will require all students, staff and visitors in schools to wear face masks for the fall. The Maryland Department of Education is strongly recommending multiple COVID-19 mitigation strategies for schools — but stopped short of mandating vaccinations and mask-wearing before students return to school later this month.
As federal and state leaders shy away from making such mandates, school administrators across the state are making high-profile decisions on masking and vaccinations at a time when the aggressive delta variant of the virus leaves some fearing the beginning of the school year could bring a spike in cases.
Last week, Howard County became the first Baltimore-area school district in the state to require staff be vaccinated or submit to testing. Montgomery County and Prince George’s County added their own requirement for staff vaccinations or testing the following day.
Maryland public school systems are planning on in-person classes five days a week this school year, with most providing only limited online availability. Most districts say they have no plans to revert to the hybrid or online-only classes they used last school year.
The Baltimore County school system continues to operate weekly vaccine clinics through the end of the month. Employees can find the schedule of upcoming clinics at the Baltimore County Department of Health’s Vaccine Hub.