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Local Reactions to School Vaccine, Testing Mandate Mixed

Covid Vaccine - Shutterstock Option

By Karen Knight

COURT HOUSE – While New Jersey schools prepare to reopen after Labor Day, a new requirement that all preschool to 12th grade school personnel be fully vaccinated against Covid by Oct. 18, or be subject to Covid testing at minimum one to two times per week, has school staff scrambling and parents reacting.
According to a release (https://bit.ly/3Bo65ML) from Gov. Phil Murphy’s office, this requirement will strengthen protections against Covid’s spread, including the highly transmissible delta variant, to children in school settings, many of whom are under 12 and not yet eligible for vaccination, but not everyone agrees.
More than 270 comments were posted on the Herald’s Facebook page (https://bit.ly/3gLcfPc) when reactions to the new mandate were solicited.
Some supported the move.
“I don’t mind getting tested every week,” wrote Kayla Lyn Gushue, of Villas, who is an aide at the Cape May County Special Services School District. “I work at a special education school and a lot of the students can’t wear masks, so I will do my part and get tested since I don’t have the vaccine and I’m unsure if I want to get it, but I want to make sure I don’t risk any of the students.”
Stephanie Meehan, of North Cape May, whose Facebook page said she is program supervisor at The Arc of Cape May County and a parent, wrote she was “very happy with it. I feel safer sending my son to school this fall.”
However, not everyone feels safer based on some of the comments, like that of Amy Lloyd, an Egg Harbor Township stay-at-home mom, according to her Facebook page. “It is just a false sense of security,” she wrote. “It makes everybody feel better that their children are around vaccinated people.
“However, think about it,” she continued. “We are not testing the vaccinated, however, they are carrying viral load and spreading the virus at almost the same rate that unvaccinated are. The difference being the unvaccinated are more likely to do this with little or no symptoms, therefore, carrying on with a regular life because they feel just fine.
“We are testing the unvaccinated who statistically are more likely to show symptoms of the illness,” Lloyd added, “and know that they are sick, so know to stay away from people, or show symptoms, so people can see and stay away from them. Therefore, being around vaccinated people is no safer than being around unvaccinated people and perhaps even more risky.”
Other comments were like those of Court House resident Geri Santesse, whose Facebook profile says she works in health care. 
“I think it’s against their constitutional rights, and I also believe this is exactly what the government wants,” she wrote.
The new mandate regarding vaccines impacts all school districts “pretty much the same way in terms of the logistics of the testing option for the unvaccinated,” according to Lower Cape May Regional Superintendent Joseph Castellucci. 
“We are still reviewing that, as guidelines on this are, as of now (Aug. 26) non-existent,” he added. 
The district is surveying its staff to determine their vaccination status.  
“We gave staff until Aug. 31 to complete the survey and provide proof of vaccine, so I don’t have a complete picture of that yet,” he noted. “So far, however, it seems that most staff are either vaccinated or planning to do so.”  
The district is not doing a mix of in-person and virtual instruction this year: Reopening fully in-person beginning the first day of school so, at this time, there are no students attending virtually.  
“Since we are opening fully in-person,” Castellucci said, “that is the main difference, in terms of mitigation strategies versus last school year. 
“Some of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines are different, such as maintaining 3-foot distancing versus 6-foot and our cleaning protocols will be maintained with last year’s procedures. All staff, students, and visitors to our schools will be required to wear masks, as we did last year.”
Quarantine requirements for close contacts will be determined by vaccination status, he explained. 
“Unvaccinated persons identified as close contacts will be required to quarantine,” he said. “Vaccinated persons do not. We will do our very best to provide as much of a normal school experience this year as is safe and appropriate, which was, in many respects, not possible last year.”
All staff and students are issued laptops and/or Chromebooks as the district has done for nearly eight years, according to the superintendent. 
“Internet capability at our school district is superior, and we will provide hot spots to students with internet issues, if necessary, if and when virtual instruction is necessary for individual students or groups,” he said.
Efforts to reach the superintendents of the Lower Township Elementary, Middle Township, and Wildwood school districts were unsuccessful.
The Rev. Leo Dodd, lead pastor at the First Assembly of God, in Cold Spring, wrote in an email that his 12-year-old daughter will be going into sixth grade in person or in a hybrid model with some virtual learning.
“I am relieved,” he wrote, about the mandate. “I was going to ask the school if my child’s teacher was vaccinated. Now, I don’t have to. I wouldn’t want to send my child to a school if the staff was not vaccinated and/or tested.”
Both he, his wife, and their adult siblings are vaccinated, he noted.
Parent Vanessa DeRose, of Ocean View, is in favor of the mandate because of the potential havoc a Covid outbreak could cause.
“I’m totally fine with it,” she wrote on Facebook. “We know that we are safer the more we vaccinate, and, frankly, for the kids that can’t vaccinate, it’s up to the adults in their lives to lower their exposure risk.  Plus, as a district, should a teacher not be vaccinated and get Covid, it could cause such havoc on the school year.”
To contact Karen Knight, email kknight@cmcherald.com.

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