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Wisconsin’s Largest Teachers Union Calls For Universal Masking, Vaccination Of All Teachers And School Staff

‘We Want Those School Boards And School Districts To Make The Right Decision,’ Says WEAC President

A nurse draws up vaccines in a backstage storage area. Clothing and costumes hang on the wall behind her.
Valerie Daum, a registered nurse with the Cudahy Health Department, draws up COVID-19 vaccines Tuesday, May 4, 2021, backstage at the St. Francis High School theater in St. Francis, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

The Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teacher’s union, is calling for all teachers and school staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or go through robust regular testing.

“We believe that all teachers, education support professionals, adults in the building and eligible students should be vaccinated,” said new WEAC President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen during a press conference Wednesday. “Those with rare exceptions who aren’t (vaccinated) must be tested regularly.”

WEAC said masks should also be required for all students, educators and other adults in school buildings.

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Wirtz-Olsen, a high school art and English teacher in Marshfield, said the organization released its recommendations to support teachers and staff in pushing for masks and vaccine or testing standards at the local level.

“It’s my belief as an educator that our educators across the state in all school districts will recognize that with us coming forward with this plan, it gives them the help and support to bring this forward in their local districts and with their local school boards,” she said.

The school boards for both the Madison Metropolitan School District and Milwaukee Public Schools have directed staff to draft plans for teacher and staff vaccine requirements for possible approval later this month.

Madison Teachers Inc. union President Michael Jones said on Friday that more than 85 percent of teachers are in favor of a vaccine mandate.

California, Illinois and New York City have already required teachers get vaccinated or submit to regular testing.

In other districts, though, school boards have not passed — or, in some cases, even considered — mask requirements for students or staff, let alone raised the idea of mask mandates.

Wirtz-Olsen said the union has also been focused on professional development for teachers. She said they’ve offered courses around virtual learning, which many schools used for all students at least part of last school year and a few districts are offering as an option for families this year.

She said WEAC has also been offering more professional development around teacher mental health, after hearing from their members that it’s a top concern.

“As we’ve seen with everyone throughout the pandemic, it’s something critically important for our educators for taking care of themselves, but also for their own understanding of working with their student population and supporting them along the way,” she said.