How some local school districts are handling religious exemptions, as vaccine mandate approaches

SOUTHERN OREGON — All educators, school staff, and volunteers in Oregon’s K-12 schools must be fully vaccinated by October 18th.

Those who don’t, must provide proof of vaccination or receive a medical or religious exemption.

Medford Superintendent Bret Champion says his district will not check religious exemption claims to ensure they are legitimate.

“The reality is we were handed a set of rules, we’re abiding by those rules and we will continue to do so, it’s how the state of Oregon has chosen to maintain this. We will make sure our employees will follow all those rules,” he said.

The largest school district in the Rogue Valley says as long as its 1,500 employees get their completed forms in by the deadline, they will be able to keep teaching.

“For any of those exceptions, we are requiring some additional requirement for those employees, that’s per the rule. For us, that’s weekly testing or if there’s a concern then the employee can meet with HR and talk about another standard, which could be a K-95 mask [double masking],” Champion said.

In the Eagle Point School District, Communications Supervisor Dean MacInnis, says human resources and the school board are working on educating their staff about the vaccine.

“We want to know because we respect everyone’s point of view, are we going to be losing staff, as well, because of this?” He said.

MacInnis says the district has provided a timeline, including what dates would be necessary to schedule vaccination appointments in order to meet the deadline.

He says they will also provide exemption forms online for staff to easily access if they choose to do so. “We do not want any of our staff to be unsure where they stand, what they can do, what does an exemption mean.”

As far as handling religious exemptions goes, MacInnis says the school district is still figuring that process out.

“HR and appropriate parties will have a conversation to talk about reasonable steps. But at this point, there is nothing concrete about what those steps are,” he said.

Both Medford and Eagle Point School Districts agree – keeping students safe and at school is the main priority, with social distancing guidelines being strictly followed.

The Grants Pass School District says exemption forms are submitted to HR and reviewed by district leadership.

Major religious denominations are all essentially unanimous in their support of the COVID vaccine.

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Mariah Mills
NBC5 News reporter Mariah Mills is a Medford native. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a Bachelor's Degree in journalism. She also minored in sociology. In school, she covered Oregon athletics for the student-run television station, Duck TV. When she's not reporting, she’s reading, hiking and rooting for her favorite teams, the Seattle Seahawks and the Oregon Ducks.
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