Madison Metropolitan School District staff are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 1.
MMSD became the second Wisconsin school district to mandate staff vaccines Monday night, joining Milwaukee Public Schools. The MMSD policy, which passed on a unanimous vote from the School Board, had the support of Madison Teachers Inc.
“I just want to thank everyone who worked on this, and there are a lot of people who did,” board member Nicki Vander Meulen said Monday. “This is really an important strategy and an important mitigation strategy along with all of our others. This is a gamechanger.”
According to a memo from administrators, the district is hosting a variety of events to help unvaccinated staff receive their vaccination, including vaccination clinics Oct. 1 and 22 and virtual question and answer events with medical professionals who have been advising the district on its reopening this fall.
Every employee will have to submit verification of vaccination or a request for an exemption with supporting documentation by Nov. 1. Those who fail to submit either will be placed on administrative leave Nov. 15 after receiving an initial reminder the week of Nov. 8.
By Dec. 1, MMSD will review documentation and verify vaccination status. Those who have not been vaccinated or received an exemption by the week of Dec. 8 will be “encouraged to get vaccinated” or be placed on unpaid administrative leave.
Unvaccinated, nonexempt employees will have their employment terminated the week of Dec. 20. Exemptions are available for medical or religious reasons, and those whose exemptions are approved will be tested for COVID-19 twice weekly.
Staff said Monday the website for staff to submit verification of their vaccination will be up and running by early next week.
The mandate includes employees and volunteers, including those with Madison School and Community Recreation. The district considers this mandate a “phase one,” with other groups possibly up for consideration in a “phase two,” though it did not state explicitly what those groups are in the memo to the board.
In the memo, the district acknowledged the mandate could create staffing issues at some schools.
"While we do not yet know how many staff will choose not to become vaccinated, given our Dane County data we estimate that number to be minimal," the memo states. "We will be monitoring our data very closely allowing human resources to begin filling anticipated vacancies as soon as possible."
As of mid-August, the district said publicly it was not considering a mandate. Things changed quickly, as Vander Meulen publicly called for a discussion and vote on the issue by the end of the following week.
Before the month ended, superintendent Carlton Jenkins endorsed the idea during a back-to-school press conference.
"Yes I am recommending that we move forward with a mandate for vaccination," Jenkins said at the time. "I don't do this lightly, because I'm not one that would just make mandates.
"We have, as a group ... studied this and we know the best path forward for our students, for our staff and for our community is to take the highest level of safety serious, and that's what we've done."
Days later, board members approved a resolution in support of the idea and asked district officials to bring them a plan for a vote in September.
MTI president Michael Jones said last month that a survey of the union’s members showed 85.5% supported a vaccine mandate while 10% wanted more information.
"I think that 10% can easily be moved to the 85.5% should the resolution pass, as we're working together on making sure that there are protections and a humane program that will respect privacy and be able to get those things done safely," Jones said.
The proposal adds another mitigation strategy to the required masking inside and outdoors on MMSD property and attempted physical distancing in classrooms. It comes amid the third school year affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many parents still concerned about sending their children to school in-person.
MMSD received 750 applications for its last-minute virtual option for grades 4K-5, much higher than the 150 it had anticipated. Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine, though Pfizer recently announced it planned to submit its trial data for children ages 5 to 11 to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization soon.