Teachers and staff in the Madison School District must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 1, while those with medical or religious reasons for not getting the jab will be tested twice a week.
The Madison School Board on Monday unanimously supported a mandatory staff vaccination plan proposed by district administration. While no community members spoke at the meeting, one parent submitted a written statement supporting the vaccine mandate.
“I urge the board to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for staff and volunteers. I have four children attending (Madison) schools and this is the right thing to do for students, families and staff,” Timothy Conroy wrote.
The plan was first presented to a board committee a week ago. While presenting the plan, district director of student services operations and accountability Leia Esser said that the district has an “obligation” to protect the health of students and staff.
“We must recognize that our students’ worlds expand beyond school and in ensuring our staff are vaccinated we will help keep our students, their siblings, their grandparents, their neighbors and those they love and care about safe as well,” Esser said.
Requests for religious or medical exemptions will be reviewed by district human resources personnel. Unvaccinated staff will have to submit negative COVID-19 test results twice a week.
The district will hold a vaccine clinic for employees on Oct. 1 for the first dose and again on Oct. 22 for the second dose. Staff who have not submitted proof of vaccination or an exemption request by Nov. 15 will be placed on unpaid administrative leave.
Staff who do not submit proof of vaccination and haven’t been approved for an exemption by Dec. 20 will be fired.
Esser said the website where staff can upload documentation should be ready by “early next week.” All school partners and volunteers will also have to show proof of vaccination. District assistant director of health services Windy Smith said expectations for school visitors will be determined at a later time.
Smith said the vaccine requirement applies to “really anybody who is working in school, in person, with our students.”
The vote comes after Milwaukee Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, passed a similar staff vaccination requirement on Sept. 9. The Milwaukee School Board also approved a $100 vaccination incentive for MPS students who are 12 and older who provide proof they are fully vaccinated. The deadline for both is Nov. 1.
On Aug. 27, as COVID-19 cases surged in Dane County, support for staff vaccine mandates increased. Madison Superintendent Carlton Jenkins announced he would back a staff mandate. At a special board meeting on Aug. 30 the School Board unanimously supported a resolution requiring COVID-19 vaccines for teachers and staff. Hours before the School Board’s vote, Madison-area lawmakers released an open letter calling on board members to move forward with mandatory staff vaccines.
Madison teachers overwhelmingly support mandatory vaccinations, with 85.5% of those surveyed in favor of requiring vaccinations, according to a survey conducted by the district’s teachers union, Madison Teachers Inc. One in 10 said they still wanted to learn more about a vaccine requirement, while 4.5% said they did not support it.
Since students returned to the classroom on Sept. 2, COVID-19 cases have been on the rise. As of Sept. 22, there were 621 students, teachers or staff who were quarantined over the previous 14 days, compared to 407 as of Sept. 15. There were also 112 people in the schools who tested positive for COVID-19 over the past 14 days as of Sept. 22, compared with 83 a week earlier in a district of roughly 32,000 students, teachers and staff.
According to Public Health Madison and Dane County, the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases per day in Dane County was 95.1 as of Sunday. Public Health also reported that 73.6% of residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The CDC has only approved vaccines for those who are 12 and older. Last week, at a press conference outside Hawthorne Elementary, Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, said she believed COVID-19 vaccine requirements for eligible students could become a reality. Jenkins said for now, he prefers to leave the decision on vaccination for children up to parents.
Costs associated with hiring staff to verify vaccine documentation and exemption requests, additional testing of exempt staff and creating the online website where documentation will be uploaded will be paid for with federal COVID-19 relief funds that were allocated for K-12 schools.
School Board member Nicki Vander Meulen thanked district administration for creating the plan and said it would strengthen existing COVID-19 protocols.
“This is really an important mitigation strategy along with all our others,” Vander Meulen said. “This is a major game-changer.”