Orange East Supervisory Union to consider mandating COVID-19 vaccines

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/13/2022 9:59:22 PM
Modified: 2/13/2022 9:57:28 PM

BRADFORD — The Orange East Supervisory Union Board is scheduled to consider mandating COVID-19 vaccines for school employees at a special meeting on Tuesday.

In advance of that meeting, the board has gotten several letters from employees who say they will quit or be fired rather than get vaccinated should the board institute a mandate. 

“I am currently not vaccinated and don’t plan to be,” Jazmin Shaw, a teacher at Watch Them Grow Childcare Center at River Bend Career and Technical Center in Bradford, said in a Feb. 8 letter to the board. “I want to keep my job that I absolutely love, but I am firm on my beliefs.”

Shaw’s is among the eight signed letters opposing the requirement that had been posted to the board’s website as of Friday. There also were five anonymous letters opposing the measure and two in support.

Those who oppose the measure said they are concerned that the requirement will further diminish staffing levels at a time when schools are already experiencing a labor shortage. Some employees asked that the requirement be delayed until the end of the school year, so they could finish out the school year. Others asked that they be given an option to be regularly tested for COVID-19, rather than vaccinated. They also said they felt that vaccination should be a personal choice. One letter writer attached a letter from her St. Johnsbury, Vt., chiropractor who expressed his opposition to the vaccines.

Meanwhile, those who said they support the mandate said that requiring vaccines ought to be part of the schools’ public health response to the pandemic.

“The conversation about how to respond to this virus should be taken up by qualified health professionals, not peripherally informed skeptics,” Ryegate resident Richard Balzano wrote in a Jan. 14 letter to the board. “...So let’s move forward with a mandate at (Blue Mountain Union School), and let’s view this as an opportunity. Any staff/faculty who chooses not to get vaccinated without a valid medical excuse can move on. Good riddance.”

OESU, which includes schools in Bradford, Newbury, Corinth, Wells River and Thetford, had previously informed employees that it would be requiring COVID-19 vaccination by Feb. 4 in accordance with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandate or testing option for employers with more than 100 people. But last month OSHA dropped the rule after the Supreme Court blocked it.  

Now it’s up to the OESU board to decide whether to implement the requirement, which would apply to the supervisory union’s approximately 800 employees, substitutes, coaches, volunteers and other temporary employees.

Several schools on the Vermont side of the Upper Valley have already instituted vaccine requirements, including those in Hartford and the Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union. A state law, which Gov. Chris Sununu signed in July, prevents New Hampshire schools from instituting such a requirement.

Superintendents in Hartford and Windsor Southeast have said their mandates, which went into effect in the fall, had minimal effect on staffing in their schools. Hartford Superintendent Tom Debalsi said three employees refused to be vaccinated. Windsor Southeast Superintendent David Baker said just one employee refused the shots; another 11 received religious exemptions and are tested regularly.

The OESU board discussed the issue, but took no action, at a Jan. 18 meeting. Draft minutes from that meeting indicate that Board members Charlie Buttrey, of Thetford; Judy Murray, of Wells River; Donna Pluta, of Thetford, support such a requirement. Board member Danielle Corti, who serves as chairwoman of the Oxbow Unified Union School District, said she wanted to poll teachers and staff to see what the impact of such a mandate would be on staffing.

A letter signed by four OESU employees, three at the technical center and one at Oxbow High School in Bradford, said it could be hard to measure the effect of the mandate on students.

“Children create lasting relationships with everyone from their classroom teacher to the school bus drivers, coaches, custodians, volunteers, and every other adult they interact with on a daily basis in their schools,” according to the letter signed by tech center employees Carl Hildebrandt; Brad DeGoosh; and Mike Howe, as well as Oxbow paraeducator Jack Palmer. “Any person lost to this mandate could mean an irreplaceable loss to some student somewhere who looked to that person as their rock.”

Melanie Rhoads, OESU’s director of human resources, provided a presentation to the board on Jan. 18, outlining the effects of COVID-19 on the workforce.

Due to COVID quarantines this school year through Jan. 7, employees had missed 208 work days. Two employees had approved worker’s compensation claims, equaling 10 missed days. Through Jan. 17, 37 employees had tested positive for the virus for a total of 81 missed work days.

In the first 18 days of January, OESU schools had been closed for six days, according to Rhoads’ presentation.

Superintendent Emilie Knisley pointed to staffing issues as the reason for the school closures amid the omicron surge in early January.

The New Hampshire and Vermont chapters of the National Education Association, as well as the national teachers union, came out in support of vaccine mandates for school employees this summer as case counts began to rise when the delta variant hit the Twin States.

It’s not clear what percentage of OESU employees have been vaccinated. Knisley said school officials are collecting data on vaccination rates and will have more information to share at Tuesday's meeting.

According to the draft minutes of the Jan. 18 meeting, Knisley said, “a vaccinated workforce is more available to report for work.”

The meeting will be held via Zoom on Tuesday at 6 p.m. The agenda and meeting link are available online at

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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