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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

MPS Considers Employee COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

Emily Files
Parents drop off students at MPS's MacDowell Montessori on the first day of school.

Updated Thursday at 3:46 p.m. CDT

Milwaukee Public Schools could be the first Wisconsin school district to COVID-19 vaccinations for employees.

The MPS board is meeting Thursday to take up the issue. District administrators are in favor of a mandate which would give staff until Nov. 1 to get fully vaccinated.

Employees could get medical or religious exemptions but would be required to get tested for COVID-19 twice weekly.

MPS Board President Bob Peterson initiated the discussion about a vaccine mandate. He said in an August meeting that the district’s current mitigation strategies, including masking, are not enough.

"In my opinion, the recent upsurge in the COVID-19 delta variant and its increasing impact on children tells us that what we are doing is still not enough," Peterson said. "We can do more to ensure the safety of our students, staff, and families in Milwaukee."

With the FDA's full approval of the Pfizer vaccine, teacher vaccine mandates have cropped up in cities like New York and L.A. and statewide in Illinois, Washington and Oregon.The Madison school board appears to be the only other Wisconsin district currently headed in that direction.

Two Milwaukee universities, Marquette and Alverno, are requiring students to get vaccinated. The City and County of Milwaukee announced employee vaccine mandates recently.

Milwaukee is currently experiencing what’s categorized as an “extreme” level of COVID-19 transmission, with 272 cases per 100,000 people. The vaccination rate is around 53%.

In a recent press conference, Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson talked about protecting unvaccinated children.

"Children under 12 are still ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and the best way to keep kids safe is to surround them by vaccinated adults," Johnson said. "This includes parents, family members, teachers, daycare employees, and school staff."

In MPS, COVID-19 case numbers have been rising in the three weeks since early-start schools reopened. Last week, 115 students and 35 staff tested positive.

On Wednesday evening, MPS announced Morse Middle School would move to virtual learning because 3% or more of the school community had tested positive for COVID-19 over a 14-day time period.

The MPS Board meets Thursday at 5:30 pm to take up the vaccine mandate. The board will hear public testimony before making a decision.

The district has received some pushback from individual staff members, who say a vaccination requirement would force them to leave their jobs.

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Emily has been reporting on Milwaukee-area education for WUWM since 2018.
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