Mass Teachers calls for school vaccination requirements

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North Attleborough High School

A recent vote by the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) supports requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for all employees and eligible students in public schools and colleges.

In a statement issued on Aug. 17, the vote of 46-4 states “We take seriously our responsibility to protect our students, preK through higher education, our members and their families, and our communities. While research indicates that educators already have high rates of vaccination, the MTA supports required vaccination of all education workers and eligible students in our schools and colleges. We also support regular COVID-19 testing in lieu of vaccination for those not yet eligible or those for whom vaccination is not medically advisable.”

The MTA stated that as COVID-19 cases continue to rise and the delta variant spreads, a vaccination requirement—with provisions negotiated under collective bargaining laws—is important to in-person learning. A recent statement from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) calls on schools to resume in-person learning this fall.

We must do everything in our power to protect students, educators, public health, and all of our communities — including communities of color, which, because of structural racism, have been hit the hardest by the coronavirus pandemic,” said MTA President Merrie Najimy.

In an e-mail to the North Star Reporter, School Superintendent John Antonucci said that a vaccination requirement is not being discussed at this time.

But as you know it is a fluid and ever-changing situation,” he wrote.

School in North Attleborough is set to resume on Aug. 31. DESE has issued guidance that strongly recommends masks in grades K-6 for all students and those in grades 7 and above that have not been vaccinated. Masks would be required for all students on buses. This is the sole measure being recommended, with social distancing or reduced class sizes not part of the guidance from DESE.

Antonucci has said that North Attleborough will follow this recommendation until new information comes forward. No guidance has come from Gov. Charlie Baker’s office on mask mandates.

In the statement from the MTA, improvements to buildings are also needed. This includes upgraded ventilation systems, access to appropriate face coverings, rapid and consistent access to COVID-19 testing, and appropriate social distancing in education settings. Throughout the last year and a half the North Attleborough Schools have utilized federal funding to upgrade the schools’ ventilation systems.

Educators and our unions are doing everything in our power to ensure that public schools and colleges can open safely and stay open,” Najimy said. “We continue to be alarmed by the failure of state political leaders to follow our example — and their refusal to engage with other stakeholders during this critical time.”