Why more school systems are now ready to demand teacher vaccinations

Vaccine mandates are winning support from teacher unions across the country
By: | August 16, 2021
California schools must now track the vaccination status of all teachers and staff. (Fresno USD)California schools must now track the vaccination status of all teachers and staff. (Fresno USD)

Trying to reopen amidst the delta surge, Chicago Public Schools is the latest major system to require employees to get vaccinated or face weekly COVID testing.

The state of California, New York City and Denver have all mandated teacher and staff vaccines in recent weeks as the nation grappled with yet another wave of the coronavirus that threatens to upend yet another school year.

“This new policy enhances the district’s comprehensive reopening plan and ensures that students and staff can confidently learn in-person,” Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot said in a statement announcing the mandate.

Teachers, administrators or other district staff who do not submit proof of vaccination by Oct. 15 will be tested for COVID on at least a weekly basis. With the first day of school set for Aug. 30, some 67% of district employees are fully vaccinated, the district says.

“The science is clear: Higher populations of vaccinated people means better health outcomes in communities, safer places of work and public spaces,” said interim district CEO Dr. José M. Torres. “This is the right move for the greater good of our school communities and will help ensure we have a successful and healthy school year.”

Employees with a medical condition or sincerely held religious beliefs are eligible for an exemption to the mandate.

Elsewhere, staff vaccine mandates appeared imminent in several other states and districts, often with growing support from labor unions.

Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Brent Jones has mandated vaccines for all “non-represented” employees. The district will immediately begin talks with labor unions to expand the mandate.

“Vaccines are working and reduce hospitalizations and fatalities,” Jones wrote in a message to the district. “Vaccinations help protect our staff and help reduce unnecessary risk for our students.”

Last week, Washington state’s superintendent of public instruction, Chris Reykdal, suggested the state require school personnel to get vaccinated or face termination. That request is now awaiting action from Gov. Jay Inslee.

“With the continued increase in cases of COVID-19 across our state due to the highly contagious delta variant, students losing precious time learning in-person with their educators and peers because of quarantine or, potentially, school building closures are a real threat,” Reykdal said.

In New Jersey, the Newark Teachers Union told members that Newark’s schools and perhaps the entire state will soon mandate vaccines for school staff, Chalkbeat reported.

The nation’s two largest unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, both endorsed vaccine mandates for school staff last week.