January 21, 2021

Committee Puts Special Emphasis on Educators for Vaccines

Committee Puts Special Emphasis on Educators for Vaccines Featured Image
WEAC President Ron Martin

WEAC emphasized the importance of vaccinating educators as soon as possible, and we are included in the current phase, 1B, of the COVID vaccination. Our state union submitted official testimony in support of including all educators in Group 1B, and nearly 600 WEAC members also answered our call to weigh in by sharing their personal statements in favor of that position. Based on union advocacy, two-thirds of the members of the Wisconsin Committee on Vaccine Distribution supported moving educators to the front of the line in the 1B group.

The members who voted against moving educators to the front of the line in the group argued that subdividing the second phase to prioritize teachers would take away from the other groups in the second phase.

“The priority vaccination of educators would go a long way to allowing educators to return to schools in-person, keeping their students and their own families safe,” said WEAC President Ron Martin.”Along with vaccines for educators, schools will still need regular testing, contact tracing, building upgrades like modern ventilation systems and funding for supplies to meet CDC safety guidelines.”

The advisory committee’s recommendations will go to the Department of Health Services, which is planning to make a decision next week. DHS has already approved first responders and adults over the age of 65.

Local school districts will still make the final decision about in-person schooling. While the Secretary of Health Services can close schools in a pandemic, she cannot order them to open.

Currently, there are more than 1,300 outbreak investigations in educational facilities being investigated by the state health department. That is likely to intensify as a more contagious strain of the virus enters Wisconsin. A report from the UK showed that school-aged children were twice as likely to pass on the new strain of the virus than adults.

“On any given school day, educators spend hours with up to 30 children at a time, not to mention hundreds of students in hallways and lunchrooms,” Martin said. “Most students will not be vaccinated anytime soon. It’s especially dangerous for special education teachers working with students who can’t wear masks and for the one-in-four educators who are at high risk of COVID-19 complications.

“Even where schools have provided in-person instruction, they are forced to frequently switch to virtual learning due to quarantines and staffing shortages, creating on-again, off-again school calendars that keep families and schools guessing at what any week will bring,” he added. “The priority vaccination of educators is one important step toward safe in-person school and would go a long way toward stabilizing a volatile educational environment.”