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Amherst Regional School District institutes vaccine mandate for students

  • Amherst Regional High School GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Monday, October 11, 2021

AMHERST — All Amherst public school students eligible for FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines are being required to get their shots by Dec. 1 to continue attending classes.

The Amherst Regional School Committee voted 7-0 on Sept. 28 to mandate the vaccination, a decision that came following a Sept. 9 Amherst Board of Health vote. The health board, based on a request from the public schools, added any COVID-19 vaccine receiving full FDA approval to the list of immunizations students must take.

With the vote, Amherst is believed to be the first district in the state to require its eligible students to get the COVID-19 vaccination.

“I hope this pushes the conversation forward across the state,” Amherst representative Peter Demling said.

The mandate will mostly affect students attending Amherst Regional High School and Amherst Regional Middle School. Students from Amherst, Pelham, Shutesbury and Leverett attend those schools. So far, the only fully authorized COVID-19 vaccine is Pfizer’s, and only for students ages 16 and up.

Demling said the decision is about keeping both students and staff safe, adding he is disappointed in state education officials and Gov. Charlie Baker for not pushing for districts across the state to take similar action.

At a meeting last week, Chairwoman Allison McDonald said the mandate is just one layer of protection for students and staff, along with other actions that have been taken, including requiring masks to be worn in buildings.

Ruby Cain, the student representative to the committee, said students are supportive of the mandate, noting that everyone should feel safe when they go to school and that the vaccine requirement is a way to accomplish that.

The committee delayed the requirement until Dec. 1 based on a recommendation from Superintendent Michael Morris, who noted that in a typical school year, families are given until Nov. 1 to provide documentation of immunization compliance for their children, or request a medical or religious exemption.

In a memo, he wrote that many families were not able to obtain vaccinations, or required boosters, for their children during the time when medical facilities were closed for in-person visits due to the pandemic. Robbin Superenant, the district’s nurse manager, suggested pushing the deadline back a month for this school year.

“Aligning the deadline for the COVID-19 with the other immunization requirements will streamline the process for our school nurses while also helping our families,” Morris wrote.

Vaccinations statistics provided by the state show that uptake of the COVID-19 vaccination is already high among teenage residents in the four regional towns.

In Amherst and Pelham, 75%, or 672 of the 893 students ages 12 to 15, are fully vaccinated, and 85% of those same students have gotten at least one COVID-19 shot. In Leverett and Shutesbury, 81%, or 227 of 279 students ages 12 to 19, are fully vaccinated.

Due to the presence of college students in Amherst, the percentage of 16- to 19-year-olds with one COVID-19 shot or who are fully vaccinated is harder to track, but Morris said he believes the numbers likely mirror the students ages 12 to 15.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.