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

MPS Mandates COVID Vaccinations For Employees

Emily Files
Students in class at MPS's MacDowell Montessori on the first day of school.

All Milwaukee Public Schools employees will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 1, with exceptions for medical or religious reasons. The district will also provide $100 incentives for students to get the shot.

The MPS board unanimously voted for both mitigation measures at a special meeting Thursday. Employees who are granted an exemption will be required to get tested twice weekly.

Board members said a vaccinated workforce is crucial to protect students and keep them learning in-person.

"I just think we need to do everything – layer every mitigation protocol that we can, in order to keep our students and staff in the buildings in a safe manner," said Megan O'Halloran. "I think we can all agree this is the best place for our students so let’s do everything in our power to keep them there, please."

COVID case numbers among MPS students are rising. One building, Morse Middle School, closed Thursday after more than 3% of the school community tested positive.

Milwaukee Teachers Education Association vice president and parent Ingrid Walker-Henry spoke in favor of the vaccine mandate, saying she’s worried about her child being exposed to COVID at school. Students under 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

"The hardest thing I had to do with my child was allow him to attend school in-person," Walker-Henry said. "MPS has done a lot, but not everything, to ensure students are as safe as possible."

A few MPS employees spoke against a mandate at the meeting, including building engineer Rena Strzelecki.

"If you are afraid, get the vaccine, but don’t force the people who are not afraid to get the vaccine," Strzelecki said. "If we don’t speak up about this, our voices won’t be heard. My body my choice."

MPS administrators said they were preparing to hire more substitute teachers in case they lose employees due to the mandate.

The district expects to spend about $890,000 to hire staff that will deal with the logistics of the vaccine mandate, such as verifying each employee’s proof of vaccination.

As for the $100 student vaccine incentive, administrators said it could cost $3.1 million dollars, since there are about 31,000 MPS students eligible for vaccination. That funding would likely come from federal COVID relief.

Vaccination incentives for employees are still under consideration. A representative from the Milwaukee City Attorney's office raised legal concerns with MPS both mandating and incentivizing vaccinations for staff.

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