Teachers’ Unions Support Vaccine Mandates for Students and Teachers
The National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers’ union in the country, announced that it now supports mandates that requires all educators to be vaccinated against or submit to regular testing for COVID-19. The union made it clear that the vaccination of those eligible is one of the most effective ways to keep schools safe, especially now that we are entering a new school year amidst the rapid spread of the Delta variant while having low public vaccination rates. They also stressed that appropriate employee accommodations must be provided, and that paid leave and readily available locations should be made available for vaccinations. The NEA has about 3 million members, and approximately 90% of its members stated that they are fully vaccinated.
By contrast, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) do not support endorsing a vaccine mandate in a resolution passed by the AFT’s executive council. The resolution reiterates the AFT’s support for voluntary vaccination, and it encourages union representatives to bargain with their employers over workplace vaccination and test policies. They stress that they should be working with employers on vaccination policies and not opposing them, and if school districts want a mandate, the AFT should work with them and bargain on the impacts to ensure fairness. This AFT executive council announcement comes several days after the AFT President announced that she personally supports AFT members who are working with districts to create vaccine mandates.
The spread of the Delta variant has forced unions and school districts to reconsider vaccine mandates. Initially, teachers’ unions resisted supporting vaccine mandates citing teacher autonomy, while promoting voluntary vaccination. But the rapid spread of the Delta variant has changed this mindset for both unions and school districts. The surge of the Delta variant has called into question American schools’ capability to safely provide in-person instruction this year, especially as children under 12 years old are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine.
Earlier this week, California became the first state in the country to mandate that all teachers and school staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19, or undergo weekly testing. The order goes into effect October 15th, and applies to both public and private school teachers. Hawaii has mandated the same policy, though it only applies to state and county workers. This includes public school teachers but not private school teachers. New York and Denver also put similar requirements in place.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s chief epidemiologist, also recently came out in favor of vaccine mandates for teachers, saying the country was now in a “critical situation.” “We’ve had 615,000-plus deaths, and we are in a major surge now as we are going into the fall, into the school season. This is very serious business,” he said, earlier this week.
Some states where the governors or legislatures had previously banned local mask mandates in school districts are now facing renewed pressure from parents to reinstate these mask mandates and policies. Arkansas recently called a special session to revise or repeal a law that was signed earlier this year, which effectively banned schools from requiring masks for its students and staff. The special session adjourned with no further action, but last week a judge blocked the law — a decision in which the governor of Arkansas supports. Several days later, Arkansas’ department of education officially recommended that all students must wear masks in school buildings this fall.
In the latest update, Pennsylvania continues to monitor the guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in response to combating the spread of COVID-19, particularly the Delta variant. The CDC recommends that everyone in areas with substantial transmission wear a mask in public indoor settings, regardless of their vaccination status. Pennsylvania will be reinstating measures to reduce potential spread of the virus in workplaces and schools, especially now that nearly all of Pennsylvania’s counties have high or substantial levels of COVID-19 in their communities.