Monday night, staff released an open letter to superintendent Carlton Jenkins and the School Board with more than 500 signatures from community members, including 329 MMSD staff members, asking the district to delay reopening until staff are vaccinated.
“MMSD’s decision to reopen elementary schools to in-person learning beginning on March 9th ignores the clear opportunity our community has to begin a phased re-opening once all staff (beginning with staff who have been in-person all year) have had an opportunity to be fully inoculated in the very near future,” the letter states. “This is a dangerous decision because the lack of inoculations will lead to an increased risk of spread throughout our community, including students and their families at home who could have the disease brought home to them.”
The national Centers for Disease Control school reopening guidelines state vaccination is not necessary to safely reopen schools. But Dane County also remains in the most severe category based on cases per 100,000 residents, which means the agency recommends “elementary schools in hybrid learning mode or reduced attendance.”
Other staff will engage in work actions to demonstrate their opposition, with staff at La Follette and East high schools planning a “teach out” Thursday morning, when staff members will teach virtual lessons outside their school building and voice safety concerns about the re-entry plan.
While there is no timetable for grades beyond 4K-2 to return, a press release from the East staff states they are teaching out “to stand in solidarity with the elementary staff and teachers required to return in the coming weeks.”
“We teach out to stand in solidarity with our colleagues who have already been working in buildings, such as the early childhood educators, MSCR Cares staff, custodians, food service workers, and special education teachers and assistants,” the release states. “We teach out to stand up for the BIPOC and low income students, families, staff, and community members who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID.”
The open letter states staff have “worked for a year to make virtual learning an equitable and enriching experience for all students,” even as it cannot replace in-person experiences.
“We are literally weeks away from vaccines being in the arms of a majority of educators in the city,” the letter states. “Why would we expose our schools to an increased risk of exposure and community spread, when that risk could be further mitigated in such a short period of time?”
School staff are currently eligible for the vaccine and can receive it individually through their health care provider or other vaccination clinics like Walgreens. A centralized plan to vaccinate all school staff by Public Health Madison & Dane County was delayed as the agency received fewer vaccine doses than it had requested from the state.
That rollout is now expected to begin closer to the end of March and take six to eight weeks once it begins. Madison Teachers Inc. released a separate statement Monday asking authorities to quickly provide more vaccines for teachers.
"MTI is calling on local, state, and federal officials to make vaccines and other resources for mitigation of the pandemic, broadly and equitably available to school districts and institutions of higher education — especially the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), NOW!" MTI said in its statement.
District officials reported Monday night that with 98% of families responding to the reopening survey, 65% of kindergartners will return beginning next Tuesday. They did not outline specifics for any other grades.
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