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Norfolk Public Schools: Thousands vaccinated but weekly testing requirement causes concern

"We're getting calls in the office of people trying to get testing again, people who’ve gotten tested and can’t get the results in time for the deadline."

NORFOLK, Va. — The vast majority of Norfolk Public Schools employees have been fully-vaccinated against COVID-19. But there are hundreds who are finding it difficult to comply with the school division's vaccination and weekly testing policy.

On Wednesday, school officials presented to school board members their "NPS Employee COVID-19 Vaccination Status Update."

As of January 5, 2022, a total of 4,253 employees are fully vaccinated. That's 85% of school division staff. 

However, 559 employees who weren't vaccinated had not complied with the weekly testing requirement.

“It is our responsibility to do everything possible to keep the children safe," said Norfolk Federation of Teachers President Thomas Calhoun. 

In October, NPS school board members approved putting a COVID-19 vaccine mandate into place. The other option was for employees to get tested weekly.

Calhoun said since the mandate went into effect, he has been getting a lot of questions from teachers.

“We’re getting calls in the office of people trying to get testing again, people who’ve gotten tested and can’t get the results in time for the deadline," said Calhoun. 

The calls also are going to Education Association of Norfolk President Helen Pryor.

“These are your teachers who are very concerned about these letters apparently a flood of them went out," said Pryor. 

Pryor said teachers are getting violation warning letters. She said employees are trying to comply but are having a tough time with testing too. She said the association sent out recommendations to school administrators.

“One of them being perhaps we should be testing right there within the school system. There should be a more expedient way of getting the results," said Pryor. 

The data also shows 171 employees have yet to report their vaccination status.

According to the mandate, if an employee does not comply with the mandate, there are three levels of discipline in place. For the first violation, the employee gets a warning letter of concern. The second violation brings a 2-day of suspension with pay and for the third,  there is a recommendation to terminate.

At Wednesday night's school board workshop session, Norfolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sharon Byrdsong expressed to the board for some "flexibility" in regards to testing. 

"As you know, there is a nationwide shortage of tests and we do believe the majority of our staff who are not in compliance with the mandate, they have reached out to us to express tests being canceled, not being able to get appointments, tests not being available and there are some who are not going to be compliant and we will be able to identify them," said Dr. Byrdsong.

Dr. Byrdsong said the added days of testing at sites like at Military Circle Mall will open up more opportunities for staff to get a test and results faster. 

School officials said in the meeting expressed understanding about these issues and future discussions will be made.