The head of the state’s largest teacher’s union said the union is prepared to work with state and local officials to develop requirements for coronavirus vaccinations or testing to return to work.
The vast majority of students are expected to return to classrooms in every county in Maryland by the end of the month. Currently, there is no requirement for either teachers or eligible students to either be vaccinated or to provide proof of a weekly negative test. Some lawmakers are asking if that needs to be the next step heading into the fall.
“It (vaccines) is a critical tool to eliminate the virus,” said Cheryl Bost, head of the Maryland State Education Association — the state’s largest teachers union.
Bost said the union is “prepared to work with state and local leaders to develop protocols in which all employees either have proof of vaccination or are subject to frequent coronavirus testing. To answer the questions about mandating the vaccine for students, other vaccines are in state statute so that would need a state initiative to make it a requirement for students.”
She cited national numbers saying that about 90% of teachers have been vaccinated. She did not offer an estimate for teachers in Maryland. Bost told lawmakers that more must also be done to ensure that members of the general public are also inoculated.
Currently, 22 of 24 jurisdictions in Maryland have surpassed CDC COVID-19 case thresholds to be rated in the substantial or high transmission ranges. Only Carroll and Queen Anne’s counties remain in the lower moderate transmission category.
And while superintendents are worried about student enrollment, the vast majority of students returning to school will return to a classroom.
Maryland State School Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury said only about 13,600 students statewide – about 1.5% of all students — will attend school virtually. Twenty-two of 24 schools systems currently offer the option.
Hogan in recent weeks has stressed vaccinations over mask mandates and said he is not considering a return to statewide mask use requirements.
Children for the most part have been less affected by COVID-19.
As the delta variant surges and has become the dominant strain, the number of children who contract the disease still remains small, but hospitalizations are increasing. It is unclear if these increases are connected to the variant.
California Wednesday announced it will require all teachers in the state to either be vaccinated or provide weekly proof of a negative test.
The announcement is similar to mandates imposed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan on six state agencies and about four dozen congregate facilities. But those mandates do not include school systems, and so far neither the state school board nor any local board has imposed such a requirement.
Some Maryland counties have had success in vaccinating teachers. Howard County Public Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said Tuesday that initial surveys in that county placed the vaccination rate among teachers “at 98 to 99%.”
Del. Kirill Reznik, D-Montgomery County, and other lawmakers said local school districts or the state need to consider imposing such a mandate on both teachers and students.
Harford County Schools Superintendent Sean Bulson, representing the state association of school superintendents, said most school leaders would like to see a coordinated effort from the state rather than a county-by-county approach.
“It doesn’t mean that the districts aren’t entertaining some individually,” said Bulson. “Obviously it’s a very difficult subject. I think you’d probably find many people in support of the thinking around this but at the same time you know the resistance we’re going to see.”
Reznik rejected concerns about the sensitive, mostly partisan divide over the vaccines and said administrators “have been sort of tippy toeing around vaccines” in their presentation to lawmakers.
“I’m a little disheartened at the notion that this is a difficult subject,” said Reznik. “We require every one of the hundreds of thousands of children that go into our schools to get vaccinated. We’ve been doing it for decades.”
Bost, speaking to lawmakers, said any vaccination requirement should be part of a “layered approach” that includes other measures, including social distancing, hygiene, and a statewide mandate regarding masks.
“Schools should follow the CDC guidance and that means regardless of vaccination status, everyone should be wearing a mask,” said Bost, the union president. “The governor has failed to provide leadership on this point in schools.”
Hogan lifted statewide mask mandates and left it to individual jurisdictions to decide if those requirements are necessary. A number of jurisdictions including Baltimore city, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, have returned to some form of mask requirements. Some school districts, including Baltimore County, are requiring mask use in the classroom as well.
Del. Stephanie Smith, D-Baltimore, called on teachers to repay students who stayed at home last year to protect older, more vulnerable adults before vaccines were available.
“A year and a half later the game has changed,” said Smith. “Literally my child, others under 12, they had to sit in the house to protect adults and now all we are asking is adults to put something on the line for them, and it just feels it’s not equal.”