Aurora Public School Staff Will Need COVID Vaccine — If FDA Moves Beyond Emergency Use Authorization

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Medical assistant Yasmin Tellez gives Maria Chacon the first of two Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations at Globeville’s Clinica Tepeyac. Jan. 26, 2021.

Aurora Public Schools is one of the first major Colorado school districts to announce it will require school staffers to be vaccinated for COVID-19 starting in the fall. 

District officials said the decision is pending full Food and Drug Administration approval of one or more of the vaccines. Right now, the vaccines have only been given emergency use authorization.

Superintendent Rico Munn explained in a Tuesday letter to staff that, pending the approval, all staff must get the vaccination before the start of the 2021-2022 school year.

“This action is in accord with our belief that the science around COVID-19 and the vaccines is clear and compelling, is in alignment with the guidance received from federal, state, and local public health authorities and supports our goal of returning to full in-person working and learning as soon as possible — and to the fullest extent possible,” the letter said.

Requirement is legal, but there will be exemptions

Munn said the district recognizes that people have different perspectives on vaccination — and that exemptions allowed under state and federal law will be honored.

It is legal for schools and businesses to require vaccinations. Colorado law already requires students to be vaccinated against certain diseases such as Hepatitis B, diphtheria, measles, mumps and rubella, among other diseases.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in an email to CPR that employers can require COVID-19 vaccination for in-person work for their employees, but an employee may be entitled to an exemption through the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Bruce Wilcox, president of the local teachers’ union, the Aurora Education Association, said he believes that vaccines are an important component in keeping students and educators safe and would like districts to work with staff if staff can’t get the vaccine for medical or religious reasons.

 “We will work to ensure that all educators know their rights so that they can make an informed decision,” he said.

Munn said the district released the information now to give employees time to make plans to be vaccinated prior to the start of the school year in August.

Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association and a high school counselor, said she believes it is prudent that districts like Aurora Public Schools take measures to keep students and educators safe. She said vaccinations are just one of many components to safely returning to full-time, in-person learning.

“We also want to ensure that educators and students are given the latitude to work with their districts and that special accommodations can be made if the educator or student cannot receive the vaccine due to medical or religious exemptions.”

Vaccines required at some higher education institutions

The University of Colorado announced on April 28 that its four campuses and system administration will require all students, faculty and staff to have COVID vaccinations before the start of fall semester 2021.

So far, Aurora Public Schools appears to be unique among Metro Denver public school districts in requiring a vaccination.

Denver Public Schools said it will not require vaccines for teachers or students. Denver Health’s Dr. Steven Federico however, said he expects more governing bodies to explore the question of a vaccine mandate.

“I think that we will continue to see different organizations move in that direction — health care facilities, potentially public education,” he said. “I think that will be a big topic of conversation over the next three to six months.”

Adams 14 School District in Commerce City, Adams 12 Five Star, and 27J in Brighton districts said they don’t have plans to pursue requiring vaccines at this point. Jefferson County Schools is discussing the options for the fall. Littleton Public Schools spokeswoman Diane Leiker said all employees have had opportunities to receive the vaccine since February and that vaccination of staff is ongoing. 

“It continues to be the employee's decision whether or not to be vaccinated,” she said.

Westminster Public Schools officials said the district will require the vaccine for new hires and it strongly encourages staff and students to get the vaccine.