Some N.J. school districts granted ‘limited’ flexibility on COVID test requirements due to vendor issue

Maria Mirkovic works with some of her third graders in her classroom

File photo: Maria Mirkovic works with some of her third graders in her classroom at Christa McAuliffe School in Jersey City, N.J., Thursday, April 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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New Jersey officials will now allow districts an exception to the testing requirement of Gov. Phil Murphy’s vaccine mandate for school employees.

Gubernatorial spokesperson Alyana Alfaro-Post confirmed Friday that “limited and targeted flexibility” is being granted due to vendor-related delays that prevented some districts from being able to meet Monday’s deadline.

“Districts facing delays are required to have determined the vaccination status of all covered workers, and must be ready to begin testing as soon as the vendor is able, in order to be considered compliant,” she said.

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Some districts that opted into the state program told WHYY News they were not prepared to test teachers, when reached Friday. The officials had told employees that they would have to get tested on their own.

Pemberton Township Schools in Burlington County is still waiting for a “set-up date” with the state’s vendor, according to school superintendent Jeff Havers.

“The state vendor, I think, they’re very busy so they’re behind in terms of set up,” he said.

About 82% of district employees are fully vaccinated, as of Friday.

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The district is trying to find a vendor in the meantime until the state’s vendor is ready. “We are trying to work on the best way to support our staff and make it as easy as possible for them to be tested,” he added.

In Gloucester County, the Deptford School District is also directing unvaccinated staff to free COVID testing sites.

“We have provided our staff with [a website] showing free testing sites by ZIP code,” said Arthur Dietz, Deptford’s school superintendent. He declined to say how many employees are vaccinated “in the interest of privacy,” but added that those who are not vaccinated “are more than happy” to submit to weekly testing.

Under a directive from Gov. Phil Murphy, all school personnel – from pre-K to high school – must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or be subjected to weekly testing. The state has offered to pay for testing costs for school districts.

More than 90% of employees in the Cherry Hill Public School District in Camden County are vaccinated. Employees who aren’t must show proof of a negative COVID test by midweek to meet the governor’s mandate, according to the district’s superintendent, Joseph Meloche. He adds that his employees have also been given information on where to get tested.

“We gave them advance notice,” Meloche said. “We’ve been talking about it with the association leadership leading up to this timeframe.”

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