A vaccinator prepares to administer a COVID-19 vaccine at a county-run clinic at White Oak Recreation Center in early January. County officials detailed their plans to administer vaccines to 5- to 11-year-olds, which begin on Thursday. Credit: File Photo

When Montgomery County’s school board this month updated the district’s vaccination requirement for employees, the move received widespread praise for adding another layer of COVID-19 protection.

But some people remained opposed and are pushing for the district to reverse it, or risk having to fire hundreds of staff members.

More than 300 people — most self-identifying as MCPS employees — have signed an online petition against the mandate, demanding that the district reverse course to allow those who do not wish to be vaccinated to instead undergo weekly testing.

The petition says the signees don’t disagree with other mitigation efforts the district has in place, like a universal face-covering mandate.

“We have a variety of reasons for declining to submit to COVID vaccinations, ranging from concern about its effectiveness to concerns about its side-effects, to our own personal health situations and history, to strongly held religious beliefs,” the petition says. “The bottom line is that we have a Constitutional right, as adult citizens of the United States, to make our own medical decisions, and we will not freely surrender that right.”

In an email to Bethesda Beat last week, school district spokesman Chris Cram wrote that the vaccination mandate is a “requirement of employment and a critical measure to have a high level of safety in our public schools.”

“We will work with employees to make sure they get their vaccines but ultimately the system will have to utilize human resource processes of appropriate discipline to ensure compliance,” Cram wrote. “… We have a high level of confidence that employees will support this requirement. Our recruitment efforts for highly capable employees never stops and we continually look for the best and brightest.”

Though 300 people is a small percentage (about 1%) of the MCPS workforce of about 25,000, the district is already facing a shortage in several areas, including classroom teachers, bus drivers, nurses and health technicians.

MCPS has reported in recent weeks a shortage of about 100 bus drivers, leading to severe delays for many routes across the county, about 40 unfilled positions in health rooms and about 240 vacant teaching positions.

The teaching shortage is plaguing districts across the country.

An analysis by Chalkbeat found that 18 of the country’s 20 largest school districts reported a larger number of teacher vacancies than previous years.

The country’s three largest districts — New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago — all have announced vaccine requirements for educators that do not allow a testing alternative.

But a federal judge on Friday temporarily blocked New York City from implementing its mandate, which was set to take effect on Monday.

In Montgomery County, the employees who have signed the online petition believe the vaccination mandate “blanketly imposes the Board’s will on teachers and staff … regardless of religious and, we believe, most medical exemption requests.”

“The Board’s mandate takes our own personal health decisions out of our hands, and we cannot simply sit still and let ourselves be pressured into medical decisions under the threat of losing our jobs,” the petition says. “It is also a hell of a way to thank us for our efforts over the past 18 months.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

Caitlynn Peetz

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com