Students of Newton Public Schools (NPS) returned for the first day of the school year on Sept. 9. The day marked the return of fully in-person classes since March 2020 due to COVID-19.
The Newton School Committee passed a vaccination mandate at a special meeting with a unanimous vote on Sept. 1. The mandate required all NPS employees, transportation employees, food service vendors, and contractors to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15.
Ruth Goldman, chair of the committee, said that the decision came after Newton’s Health Advisory Council’s recommendation to vaccinate as many people as possible. The school committee, Goldman said, added additional meetings to expedite the process before NPS’s Sept. 9 start date.
Teachers and parents had urged for a vaccination mandate before it was passed, Goldman said.
“We have actually been in conversations where our teachers union had urged us to have an employee vaccination mandate, and we had also received many letters from parents asking if there was a mandate,” Goldman said.
All employees of NPS, barring those exempted for medical or religious reasons, must upload their vaccination records by Oct. 15 as part of the terms of their employment. Failure to comply may result in discipline up to termination, according to a document from the Newton School Committee.
Newton North High School (NNHS) and Newton South High School held vaccination clinics on Saturday to help assist employees in the process, Goldman said. Two more clinics will be held on Oct. 2, according to a statement from Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller.
Henry Turner, the principal of NNHS, said that the students and faculty returned to school in high spirits.
While the faculty returned a week prior to prepare for the reopening, Sept. 9 was the first day of students’ return.
“And the energy was really, really positive,” Turner said. “It was great to see students fill in the classrooms again—socializing [and] laughing … It really was a positive, positive vibe.”
When the pandemic broke out, NNHS moved to a fully online curriculum in March 2020 and later switched to a hybrid curriculum. Three grades of students, Turner said, have not experienced the entirety of their school year on campus. Currently, all NNHS classes are in person.
While NPS can require its employees to vaccinate against COVID-19, it cannot require the same of its students, Goldman said. The state, instead of the districts, regulates student immunization. As of Sept. 10, no such state regulations regarding student COVID-19 vaccination are in place.
NPS is requiring all of its personnel, students, and visitors to wear a mask when indoors or on school buses. Turner also said that testing protocols are in place to monitor COVID-19.
For Turner, the new school year is also an opportunity for members at NNHS to turn the page and discover a new post-pandemic ethos for the community.
“I think we have a real opportunity to create a new post-pandemic culture, [and] to start that now—even though we are in a pandemic still—but to start to create the culture for what it looks like beyond this year,” Turner said. “I’m really excited for the year, and our students and staff are as well.”
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