AFT, NEA urge educators, families to get vaccinated as students head back to school
Washington (PAI) – Citing an 84 percent rise in coronavirus-infected children in the first week of August, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) board has formally endorsed working with school systems on mandatory vaccinations to help ensure schools open safely for teachers, students and staffers.
The issue is of particular importance, as the nation’s 50.2 million public school students and 3.8 million teachers and staff head back to classrooms amid concern over the spread of the Delta variant, which is infecting more youngsters than the original virus did. Children under age 12 are ineligible for vaccination, and only one-third of teenagers are vaccinated so far.
The Aug. 11 resolution is one of several passed by the AFT executive board since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and is a direct response to the significant change in circumstances brought on by the spread of the delta variant and rising COVID-19 cases, infections in children, and ongoing efforts by the union to educate members and communities on the importance of getting vaccinated.
It follows comments by AFT President Randi Weingarten days before, endorsing mandatory vaccination for teachers and staff.
AFT says vaccine deniers are a big part of the problem, Weingarten said, citing the nation’s polarized political climate, vaccination misinformation campaigns, which have created troubling resistance to vaccination, leading to more than 40 percent of Americans remaining unvaccinated.
“This is a public health crisis and the politics are infecting this,” Weingarten declared in an earlier Meet The Press interview, where she endorsed mandatory vaccinations.
“Throughout this pandemic, our No. 1 priority as a union has been to keep our members, our communities and those we serve safe,” Weingarten said. “COVID is mutating, it’s spreading to kids, and vaccines remain our best defense to protect people and prevent the spread of disease; prevent hospitals from overflowing; keep our economy functioning, plus reopen — and keep open — our schools for full-time in-person learning.”
AN EVOLVING SITUATION
The virus’s “Delta variant and ensuing rise in cases have changed the situation,” Weingarten said. “More employers are considering vaccination policies, including mandates. And while we still believe the best way to increase vaccinations is through education and voluntary adoption, we want to be in a position to work with our employers on workplace vaccination policies.”
That includes working with employers to accommodate workers who need to take time off for vaccination, ensuring fair access to vaccines and banning penalties against workers who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons or who object on religious grounds, she added.
“Moving forward, we will bargain the impact of these vaccination policies. We believe that workplace policies should be done with working people, not to them,” she declared, adding that AFT “will continue to work with employers to provide safe workplaces,” including considering employer-proposed vaccination policies, and continuing layered mitigation strategies.
“As employers establish those vaccination policies, employees must have a voice in addressing the impact on workers through bargaining or other forms of consultation,” Weingarten said.
NEA TAKES SIMILAR STANCE
National Education Association (NEA) Executive Director Kim Anderson, who reports to President Becky Pringle, a Philadelphia science teacher and vaccination proponent, told National Public Radio’s Morning Edition: “We’re looking at that right now and talking with our leaders and members. But the most important thing is every school district should be collaborating with educators and community members to discuss their safety plans about how to keep everyone safe.”
The NEA’s convention, in early July, passed a resolution urging all of its three million members to get vaccinated, and endorsing vaccines for the kids. But the NEA also has to walk a fine line, as it has huge numbers of members reside in “red” states and rural areas where adults are refusing to be vaccinated.
“NEA encourages widespread use of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines,” Pringle said before its convention. “Vaccines are essential medical tools in preventing infectious diseases. We believe parents/guardians should follow vaccination guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control.”
GET SCHOOL SUPPLIES, AND GET VACCINATED
NEA has joined with numerous education, public and child health, Labor, and children’s advocacy groups to support development and distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for children under 16 years of age. As rates of infection in children rise, vaccinating children is increasingly urgent both to facilitate safe in-person education and to curb further mutations of the virus that causes the disease, the union said.
“We’re running an informational campaign not only to our educators, but their families as well, so folks can go out and buy their school supplies, and get their school clothes and get their shot—because it’s part of a really successful back-to-school plan,” said Anderson.
Ferguson-Florissant School District announces vaccine mandate for staff
The Ferguson-Florissant School District has announced all staff will need to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly tests for the virus when school starts this year.
“Widespread vaccination is one of the best mitigation tools in providing safer schools and working environments for students and staff,” the district said in a statement announcing the mandate. “Requiring all staff to be vaccinated will also help the district support the collective goal of providing students with five-day in-person learning with the least amount of disruption during the school year in the safest way possible,” reads a statement from the district.
Only one-fourth of Missouri teenagers are fully vaccinated, and children younger than 12 are not yet eligible.
OTHER SCHOOLS IMPOSING OR CONSIDERING MANDATES
Ferguson-Florissant joins Kansas City Public Schools, which was the first in the state to issue a vaccine mandate for staff.
Maplewood Richmond Heights could be the next local school district to make the rule. District leaders are reviewing staff vaccination percentages and will update their policy in the coming weeks, Superintendent Bonita Jamison said in a letter Saturday.
Some districts, including St. Louis Public Schools, are encouraging employee vaccination through paychecks, warning teachers and staff who are unvaccinated that they will not be paid if they have to quarantine for 10 days after a possible COVID-19 exposure.
Multiple colleges in the area also have announced vaccine requirements for students and staff, including St. Louis University, Washington University, Webster University and the University of Illinois.
“The Delta variants are alarming. And the spread is alarming,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which represents teachers and staff at St. Louis Public Schools. “Vaccines are the single most important way of dealing with COVID.”
Ninety percent of the union’s members have been vaccinated, Weingarten said.