FAQ: Vaccines for Educators
Updated: Sept. 16, 2021
Disclaimer: This publication is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for specific legal or other professional advice. If you have specific questions about your legal or contractual rights, contact your Education Minnesota field representative. This guidance will be updated periodically based on new information and guidance, so please refer back to this link for the most current information.
1. Who is currently eligible to receive vaccines in the state of Minnesota?
Beginning on March 30, Minnesota expanded vaccine eligibility to all residents ages 16 and older. The Pfizer vaccine has been approved for people ages 12 and up.
Pfizer has recently announced it plans to seek emergency use authorization for its vaccine for children ages 5-11 in early October, and for children under 5 in November.
2. If I have not yet signed up for a vaccine, how do I sign up?
Although the state’s education and child care staff survey has closed, school employees can now sign up through the state’s COVID vaccine connector website, which allows you to indicate that you are a school employee. You do not need to complete the vaccine connector if you already completed the previous education and child care survey.
3. Is there a cost to educators and school staff who receive the vaccine?
No, all vaccines administered by the state are provided free of charge.
4. What is the most recent guidance from the CDC and MDH for K-12 schools, and how will it impact requirements for Minnesota schools this fall?
Following the release of revised masking and safety guidelines by the CDC, MDH has recently released its own guidance regarding best practices for the 2021-22 school year that will align with the CDC’s recommendation. These recommendations are particularly directed to implementing layered prevention strategies (using multiple prevention strategies together consistently) to protect people who are not fully vaccinated. Some of the main issues covered in the guidance:
- All people ages 12 years and older should get vaccinated for COVID-19 before returning to in-person school, sports, or other activities to protect themselves and people around them who cannot get vaccinated.
- Universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of their vaccination status and regardless of the level of community transmission.
- Schools should maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms whenever possible.
- Students, teachers, and staff should stay home if they have signs of any infectious illness, and should contact their health care provider for testing and care.
- Students, teachers, and staff who have been fully vaccinated do not need to stay home even if they have had recent close contact with a confirmed case so long as they remain asymptomatic and do not test positive. Follow CDC testing guidance for anyone exposed to a confirmed case.
- People who are not fully vaccinated and returning to in-person school, sports, or extracurricular activities (and their families) should get tested regularly for COVID-19 according to CDC guidance.
- Schools should continue to strengthen good ventilation, rapid and thorough contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine, handwashing, respiratory etiquette, cleaning, and disinfection as important layers of prevention to keep schools safe.
Given the expiration of the Governor’s emergency powers, MDH and MDE currently only have legal authority to strongly encourage Minnesota school districts to adopt these practices. Individual school boards have authority to make them mandatory.
5. What is the vaccine mandate rule announced by President Biden in early September, and how will it affect school employees?
On Sept. 9, President Biden announced that the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is developing a rule that will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work. OSHA will issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to implement this requirement.
While the rule has not yet been announced, we know that it will apply in all states that have a state OSHA plan, including Minnesota, and all employers with 100 or more employees. This requirement will affect approximately 2/3 of school districts in Minnesota. In addition, the rule will require covered employers to provide paid time off for employees who have not yet been vaccinated to do so.
In the same announcement, the Biden administration called on states to adopt vaccine mandates for all school employees. Currently, nine states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have vaccination requirements for K-12 school staff, including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Washington.
6. How do schools know whether students and staff are vaccinated? Is it legal for them to ask or require students or staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19?
The most practical way for schools to determine a person’s vaccination status is to ask or require parents and staff to provide documentation in the form of a vaccination card of documentation from a medical provider.
Schools and child care facilities are currently required by state law to ask parents and guardians to provide documentation that students have received immunization against a number of diseases, including tetanus, polio and hepatitis B, subject to exceptions for those who have a medical reason for declining or a conscientious objection to vaccination, with required documentation. COVID-19 is not currently a required immunization, but the Legislature could add it. The Department of Health also has the authority to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required immunizations through rulemaking, but this process could take up to 18 months.
Schools and child care facilities are not currently required to mandate vaccination of K-12 students against COVID-19. A number of higher education institutions have announced plans to require their students to be vaccinated in order to be on campus in the fall. In addition, the Los Angeles Board of Education passed a policy requiring all students ages 12 and older to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 19 in order to attend in-person classes.
In May, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces and provides guidance on federal anti-discrimination laws, issued guidance stating that employers could mandate that employees be vaccinated, provided that the employer makes accommodations for employees who do not get vaccinated because of a disability or a sincerely held religious belief. (See section K). In addition, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that a hospital in Texas had the right to require its employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Although this decision is not binding in Minnesota, it is persuasive, and it relied on a prior Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of vaccination mandates.
Because the requirement to be vaccinated is a term and condition of employment, employers must bargain any vaccine mandate with an exclusive representative. Locals that feel strongly in favor of having a vaccine mandate in place may even want to consider proposing this to their school district. A sample staff vaccination MOU for locals to use with employers is available here. If a federal or state government vaccine mandate takes effect, the requirement itself may not be subject to bargaining, but any effects of that mandate not required by law still are.
Based on this guidance, it is likely the case that schools may legally ask staff whether or not they are vaccinated, but they should not ask additional information about an employee’s health condition unless it is for the purpose of making an exception to a vaccine mandate based on disability or religion. Employers should also maintain this information in confidence, as it likely constitutes private personnel data under Minnesota law.
7. Do schools have the legal authority to require students and staff to wear face coverings if they are not fully vaccinated?
Yes. Even if a school district does not have a vaccine mandate for students and staff, and even if the state does not require face coverings, individual school districts may choose to implement CDC guidance by requiring staff and students to continue wearing face coverings indoors if they are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. However, without a verification system as described in question 5 above, this would be done on an honor system.
8. Do schools have the legal authority to require students and staff to submit to regular COVID testing if they do not get vaccinated?
It is unlikely that school districts will be able to mandate that all unvaccinated students participate in regular testing, since students will need consent from a parent or legal guardian. Schools will need to seek their own counsel regarding the legality of mandating testing for students.
Districts may be able to require that unvaccinated staff participate in regular screening testing; however, we would consider required testing of staff a mandatory subject of bargaining, and suggest that locals work on an MOU that specifies:
- Who will administer the tests and how often;
- Whether or not the tests will occur on worktime (staff would need to be paid for time spent getting tested outside the workday); and
- How the school district or charter school will maintain the privacy of test results.
8. Will Education Minnesota represent members who are disciplined for refusing to get vaccinated?
We can’t make a definitive guarantee that we would or would not represent a member who refuses to get a vaccine at this time since there is still a great deal about vaccine implementation for school employees that we don’t know. In discipline cases outside of teacher terminations, local unions would have a say in whether a case goes to hearing. In all cases, our ability to be successful would depend on the specific reason(s) the educator refused vaccination and whether the policy was negotiated with the exclusive representative. Education Minnesota will advocate for school vaccination policies that are fair and reasonable, and that preserve any legal rights employees may have to opt out under state or federal law.
9. What are some trusted sources of information on COVID vaccines?
Minnesota Public Radio interview on MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm and infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann on COVID-19 and children: www.mprnews.org/story/2021/07/14/concerned-about-children-and-the-covid-variants-heres-what-you-need-to-know
Reuters fact check of false claims that COVID vaccines are experimental or have not been adequately tested: www.reuters.com/article/factcheck-covid-vaccines/corrected-fact-check-covid-19-vaccines-are-not-experimental-and-they-have-not-skipped-trial-stages-idUSL1N2M70MW
Minnesota Department of Health: www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/vaccine.html
U.S. Food & Drug Administration: www.fda.gov/emergency-preparedness-and-response/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/covid-19-vaccines
Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, U.S. Centers for Disease Control: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/acip/index.html
World Health Organization: www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/covid-19-vaccines