JPS the first Mississippi public school district to take this position.

WAPT ran a story on Monday about students returning to school in the Jackson Public School District. The fact that the district is returning to in-person learning was highlighted as was their mask mandate amid the rise in COVID-19 cases.

Tucked away at the bottom of the article, however, was this nugget from JPS Superintendent Errick Greene:

“Even though the vaccine is not mandated, Greene said all JPS students 12 and older who wish to participate in extracurricular activities must be 100% vaccinated. In addition, all participants will be subject to weekly COVID-19 tests.”

That same article from WAPT has since been updated this morning (Tuesday) to read as follows:

“…even though the vaccine is not mandated, Greene said the vaccination is a requirement for all JPS students who wish to participate in athletic programs and they will submit to weekly COVID-19 tests.”

Either way, WAPT seems to have buried the lede on this one.

Uncertainty still remains as to whether public school districts can legally mandate public health guidance under the Mississippi law as is set forth to govern school districts by the Legislature.

READ MORE: Can Mississippi school districts legally mandate mask wearing unilaterally?

Mississippi Code § 37-7-301 outlines the general duties and powers of school boards. Included therein are two references to public health. The statute allows school boards the power:

“…(h) To exclude from the schools students with what appears to be infectious or contagious diseases; provided, however, such student may be allowed to return to school upon presenting a certificate from a public health officer, duly licensed physician or nurse practitioner that the student is free from such disease;

(i) To require those vaccinations specified by the State Health Officer as provided in Section 41-23-37…”

To date, the COVID-19 vaccine is not on the required vaccine list from the Mississippi Department of Health.

How Jackson Public Schools can require COVID-19 vaccinations for public school students 12 and older as a requirement for extracurricular and athletic participation is a major question that must be answered.  It would appear to go beyond their expressed authority.

Given that there exists no prohibition for school boards to mandate such public health recommendations, it appears the school districts who are mandating masks believe they are within their right to do so as it is not inconsistent with law or other regulations from the Mississippi Department of Education as that entity has endorsed the guidance from MSDH and the CDC.

Perhaps JPS is now taking the same approach with the vaccine.