Conversations surrounding a potential COVID-19 vaccine mandate for staff at Monona Grove schools is still ongoing, with the school board tentatively set to take a vote on the topic next Tuesday.
School board members last week directed Superintendent Dan Olson to work with district administration on drafting an official plan for the mandate, to be presented at the board’s Sept. 21 meeting.
Olson said the district has already consulted with legal counsel on the legality of instituting a resolution that requires staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“With regard to the legal aspect of, as an employer, the ability to mandate vaccines… it’s written out very clearly that… an employer may in fact mandate vaccines, with two very clear exceptions,” Olson said.
He said those two exceptions include individuals who cannot be vaccinated due a disability and those who have sincere religious beliefs against vaccinations.
If a staff member does not fall into those two categories and chooses not to receive a vaccine, Olson said the repercussions under a vaccine mandate could range from unpaid suspension to complete termination.
Board members also asked Olson to survey district staff on their vaccination status before the Sept. 21 meeting, saying the survey could help the board determine how many staff members might be lost if a vaccine mandate were to go into effect.
Olson said that although he personally supports a vaccine mandate, he’s also weighing the prospect of how many staff members the district could potentially lose.
“What I struggle with... and what we all don’t know is, do we have employees that will refuse to be vaccinated that don’t fit in one of those [exception] categories,” Olson said. “As far as knowing that we have a labor shortage, are we going to be able to deal with that if we’re not going to be able to allow those folks to work?”
Board Member Eric Hartz said he, too, supports a vaccine mandate, but worries about the implications of immediately firing school staff for something that wasn’t in their employment contract when they were first hired by the district.
“A lot of people, when they originally came into this job… they came in without this mandate and now if we implement a mandate, there has to be some sort of easing period for people,” Hartz said. “I wouldn’t want a vaccine mandate with the automatic dismissal or getting rid of staff… that’s not really fair to people that came in without that intention.”
Similarly, Board Member Elizabeth Cook said she supports the idea of staff being vaccinated, but has reservations on a mandate’s impact on staffing in a politically charged environment.
“I’m not opposed to incentivizing it, I’m not opposed to strongly encouraging it… [but] my concern is around, in a fraught time, taking a thing that’s been politicized… and then making a mandate around it, I just don’t know how useful that’s going to be,” she said. “Especially when we talk about educator shortages and all the other complicated factors that come with that.”
Yet, Olson estimates that nearly 90% of Monona Grove staff have likely already been vaccinated against COVID-19.
He said data that he received from the Department of Health Services (DHS) indicated that 85% of those who live in the district community, and are eligible for the vaccine, have already been vaccinated.
Earlier this month, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) announced at a press conference that the group is calling for all school staff in the state to either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to regular COVID-19 testing.
WEAC’s announcement was a point of discussion for board members last Wednesday.
“When WEAC, who’s the state’s largest teacher’s union, is calling for all teachers and staff to be vaccinated… then that’s a message to us as board members,” said Board Member Susan Manning. “We need to keep our teachers safe, and right now this is the scientific evidence we have that says this helps.”
The board will meet at 7 p.m. on Sept. 21 for a potential vote on the topic.