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How Hall school board voted on $400 vaccine incentive for employees

Each member of the Hall County school board made impassioned appeals Monday for people to get vaccinated but ultimately voted 3-2 against a $400 payment incentive for employees to do so. 

The measure, proposed by Superintendent Will Schofield, was meant to incentivize school employees to get the jab by Oct. 15. The district estimates only 50% of its employees are fully vaccinated at a time when the district is battling a surge of cases, with 219 students and staff testing positive for the coronavirus and 686 currently under quarantine. Mask mandates have been imposed at six schools across the district. 

“When my people are going down like flies,” Superintendent Will Schofield said, “I’d pay $400 out of my own pocket to (get staff vaccinated),” adding that five staff members are currently in the intensive care unit with COVID-19. 

Board chair Craig Herrington, vice chair Nath Morris and board member Mark Pettitt voted against the motion. Every member objected “in principle” to paying employees as a means of incentivizing vaccination, but members Bill Thompson and Sam Chapman said the benefits outweighed the costs and voted for approval. “If I can save one life, I’m all for it,” Chapman said. 

“The conclusion I’ve come to is that nobody knows what is happening,” Herrington said, despite calling this recent surge “incredible.” He said vaccines are the most powerful weapon in the fight against COVID-19, but called the proposal “a step too far.” 

Pettitt made such a case for the power of vaccinations — urging people to put politics aside and noting he has loved ones on ventilators — that it appeared all but certain he would vote in favor of the motion. But when it came time to the vote, Pettitt raised his hand in opposition. 

Likewise, Morris said “We need something to move the needle,” but opposed the motion anyway. 

Several parents voiced their skepticism of the vaccine, downplayed the danger of the coronavirus and opposed the stipend. 

Schofield offered a staunch rebuttal, noting the Food and Drug Administration just granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“Vaccinating saves people’s lives,” Schofield said. “I’m not going to sit here and say, from someone who comes from a medical family, that if you get a COVID vaccine, you don't have a better chance of surviving this disease than (someone who doesn’t get the vaccine). That's not what medicine is saying, and these are 365 million doses that have been given in this country. This isn't a little trial that somebody did somewhere and said, ‘We think.’” 

In other news, the board unanimously approved a $1,000 bonus for new bus drivers who work for three months. The district is currently facing a shortage of around 40 drivers, said Director of Transportation Clay Hobbs, adding that only about two-thirds of those who apply actually finish the application process.