WOBURN - Confident the new policy would not result in a legal challenge, the School Committee late last week ordered the district’s workforce to get a full COVID-19 vaccination or otherwise submit to regular testing for the SARS-Cov-2 virus that causes the infection.
After emerging from an approximate 15-minute long executive session convened to debate the potential collective bargaining repercussions of the medical mandate, the School Committee voted unanimously on Thursday night to enact the vaccination or testing policy.
“The School Committee had an opportunity to discuss the legal ramifications in executive session,” said School Committee Chair Ellen Crowley about the closed door discussions.
“Just note the administration indicated their were no ramifications with the unions. It’s been reviewed by legal counsel,” later stated Dr. John Wells in comments made just after he and his colleagues agreed to enact the proposal.
Mayor Scott Galvin recently forwarded the proposed standard to the School Committee after he enacted a similar policy for all city personnel who are in regular contact with the general public.
The new employment policy reportedly went into effect for municipal workers on Monday, but it’s unclear if teachers and other school workers face the same deadline.
Earlier this month, news spread about the new workforce protocols for city personnel, who will be required to submit proof of being fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 contagion or otherwise submit to regular testing.
The mayor has indicated that those who decline to take the vaccination will have to be tested at least once a week to ensure they have not contracted the viral illness.
Before agreeing to discuss the matter further in executive session last Thursday night, Wells questioned whether the district or the mayor had the legal authority to unilaterally enact the vaccination or testing mandate without the approval of Woburn’s various collective bargaining units.
“It’s not clear to me what legal authority we’re relying upon in doing this. Do this require union negotiations?” asked the School Committee veteran.
Superintendent Dr. Matthew Crowley responded to those questions by confirming that the mayor had spoken with leaders from the Woburn Teachers Association (WTA), which is the municipality’s largest employee union.
Crowley added that he too had spoken with the WTA’s officers, but he couldn’t say whether legal counsel had rendered an opinion that confirmed the mayor and School Committee’s authority to adopt the policy without first amending collective bargaining agreements.
“This was drafted by the City of Woburn and not us,” explained the superintendent. “Presumably, the city solicitor was engaged in the process. I’m not sure how to answer your question, but I’m suggesting [the mayor] does somehow have the legal authority to do this.”
“I just don’t want to get into a situation where we institute a policy and then we’re brought before a judge [who rules] we’re violating negotiation rights,” Wells responded. “What I’d like to do is see some type of written document that indicates the unions will go along with this.”
Tabling the matter for further discussion, the School Committee subsequently went into executive session at the tail-end of their meeting on Thursday night to consider the collective bargaining implications of the policy.
During those talks, the elected officials reportedly received assurances that the vaccination or testing order would survive a legal test.