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Momentum Gathers For Vaccine Mandate In Madison Schools

NEA President Joins Local, State Educators In Push To Vaccinate Teachers

Jane Ellen Norman, 12, holds vaccination cards for her and her 14-year-old brother
Jane Ellen Norman, 12, holds vaccination cards for her and her 14-year-old brother Owen outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. The two were vaccinated Tuesday morning, after U.S. regulators expanded use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shot to those as young as 12. Angie Wang/AP Photo

The president of the National Education Association said vaccinations help keep school communities safe, saying her organization has encouraged those eligible within schools to get their shots.

“We know that the No. 1 mitigation strategy is vaccination and we have called for everyone — adults and children who are eligible — that can be vaccinated, to be vaccinated,” NEA President Becky Pringle said at a press conference outside Hawthorne Elementary School in Madison on Tuesday.

Momentum for a vaccine mandate has been gathering for weeks in Madison, where Superintendent Carlton Jenkins says the district has been focused on getting buy-in.

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“Everyone who can get vaccinated, we’re encouraging them to get vaccinated,” said Jenkins. “In our district, we just moved it forward for mandatory vaccinations for all staff. And we did this in collaboration and that’s the part that’s key about all of this.”

In the past month, Madison’s school board, Madison Teachers Inc., and the Wisconsin Education Association Council have all come out in full support of requiring teachers and school staff to be vaccinated, inching the district closer and closer to a mandate.

District officials are slated to present a plan for mandatory vaccinations to Madison’s school board on Monday, with a vote taking place by the end of the month. If passed, Madison Metropolitan School District would be the second district in the state to issue a vaccine mandate.

Milwaukee’s school board voted on Thursday to approve a vaccine mandate that requires all teachers and school staff to be vaccinated by Nov. 1. There are exemptions for religious and medical reasons, but those individuals will be required to get tested twice a week. Milwaukee’s plan also includes $100 incentives for students aged 12 and older who show proof of vaccination.

While Jenkins supports requiring vaccinations for teachers and school staff, he said parents should have a say in whether to vaccinate their children.

Pringle’s trip to Madison was part of an effort to expand community schools in the district and to discuss how federal COVID-19 relief funding could support public schools across Wisconsin.

During her visit, Pringle met with Gov. Tony Evers and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jill Underly. Both Evers and Underly have expressed support for local vaccine rules, but have stopped short of a statewide mandate, despite urging from President Joe Biden and recent COVID-19 outbreaks in Wisconsin schools.

Pringle herself has consistently walked a fine line between supporting vaccinations for teachers and mandating them.

“You know, we talk a lot about mandates,” said Pringle. “We need to get past that conversation.”

She criticized the controversy around COVID-19 vaccinations as a game of “political football” that catches students in the middle. While she still sidestepped the questions of vaccine mandates Tuesday, she cited a long history of vaccine requirements — like the one for Measles, Mumps and Rubella — keeping schools safe. And with the recent FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine, she sees COVID-19 heading in the same direction.

“We’ve always supported vaccinating the students and the educators, all of those folks in the school community, because we know the more people who are vaccinated, the safer that community is,” said Pringle. “I know that that’s where we’re going. Eventually we will get there.”