MMSD School board passes resolution calling for mandatory staff vaccinations

MADISON, Wis. – The Madison Metropolitan School District board is calling on administrators to develop a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for its staff members by late September.

The school board unanimously voted 7-0 to pass a resolution supporting a vaccine mandate for all employees during a special meeting Monday night.

The resolution, based upon a similar one from Milwaukee Public Schools, calls on district administration to come up with a plan to verify employees’ vaccination status, create a means by which employees can request a waiver in cases such as medical or religious exemption, and set up COVID testing for non-vaccinated staff.

“We have 14,000 elementary school students — a majority under 12. They cannot be vaccinated yet,” said Board Clerk Nicki Vander Meulen ahead of the meeting. “So we have to do everything in our power to keep these kids as safe as possible.”

She pointed to the recent full FDA approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for people 16 and older as a driving force. That reasoning was included in the resolution, as well.

“We’ve proved it’s safe. We’ve proved it’s effective. We’ve proved it’s saving lives,” Vander Meulen said. “What do we wait for now?”

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“When it’s a greater good for all and the safety of our children, I could not dare step back, knowing the science of this,” Superintendent Dr. Carlton Jenkins said at the meeting, echoing his sentiments from last week.

Jenkins joins the teachers union Madison Teachers Inc. and several area lawmakers in supporting a staff vaccine requirement.

Public Health Madison & Dane County is recommending vaccination promotion as a top priority for all employers, including school districts, writing in a statement, “We know that achieving high levels of COVID-19 vaccination among those who are eligible, including school staff, teachers, and students is a critical step in helping prevent and slow the spread of the virus.”

“We’re all in this together, and I really do appreciate the way this has come about,” Jenkins said.

“I think it’s providing the right resources and safety for not just the students but also the teachers so they can feel comfortable coming back and teaching us,” said Namrata Pandey, the student representative. “From the students, I think we really appreciate all the work you’ve been doing to get us a safe return back to school.”

At Monday’s meeting, board members did touch on exemptions from the mandate and the need to plan for outreach and testing.

“The other conversation we have to have is how do we interact with folks opting out of vaccination or vaccination is not safe for them,” said Board President Ali Janae Muldrow. “So assuring our staff that vaccination isn’t going to be leveraged as a way to hurt folks professionally is something that I think we’re responsible for communicating around as the board.”

Board Treasurer Ananda Mirilli said it’s a “point of pride” that MMSD already has a high percentage of vaccinated teachers, although an MMSD spokesperson said staff vaccination numbers are not available yet.

The resolution asks the plan be presented for discussion by Sept. 20 so board members could vote on it as soon as Sept. 27.