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Accord with teachers' union requiring vaccinations approved

Covid-19 image
Current staff vaccination rate is 97.3%.

UPDATED, Sept. 14: The Arlington School Committee at its Thursday, Sept. 9, meeting unanimously approved a memorandum of agreement with the Arlington Education Association that includes a vaccination mandate.

School Committee logo

Schools' Superintendent Elizabeth Homan said, in a statement Sept. 10 that the Arlington Public Schools "is working collaboratively with neighboring districts to develop a proposed policy relative to requiring vaccinations for eligible students who participate in extracurricular activities. We are also drafting a procedure for requiring vaccinations for visitors and volunteers who enter our buildings and interact with students, and this procedure will align with the visitor policy in our Pandemic Recovery Plan."

Noting that the district reports that its current staff vaccination rate is 97.3 percent, committee member Paul Schlichtman read a statement before the vote. It says, in part:

'Pandemic of the unvaccinated'

"Here in Arlington, we are striving to create the safest possible environment for our students and staff. I am grateful to the Arlington Education Association for partnering with Superintendent Homan and the School Committee to agree to a vaccine mandate for our educators. Thank you. Data from across the nation demonstrates this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and the only path out of the current national quagmire of severe illness and death is through widespread vaccination.

"Our staff recognizes the special obligation we have to our children, younger than age 12, who are currently ineligible for the Covid vaccine. Masking is important, but vaccination is the key to suppressing Covid in our schools and community."

Homan added Sept. 10: "As the superintendent of schools, I appreciate and agree with Mr. Schlichtman's comments and I share his desire for us to require vaccination for as many stakeholders as possible, as soon as possible."

Schlichtman told YourArlington on Sept. 10 that he had received an email from Kathleen Lenihan of the Lexington School Committee saying that body had adopted a vaccine requirement for sports. That is one district out of 12 in the Middlesex League. Schlichtman added he is reaching out to other School Committee members in the league, using Lexington's policy language, to encourage a mandate vaccination for sports.

Athletics issues

The statement he read to the School Committee continues:

"Not all school activities pose the same risk of Covid transmission. Students participating in athletic competition are often in close contact with other participants, with a respiration rate up to four times that of a student sitting in a classroom.

"The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletics Association (MIAA) governs every athletic program in the Commonwealth. There is no right to participate in athletics; in fact, the MIAA has a thicket of eligibility requirements for students, and playing a game with an ineligible student is punished with an automatic loss for the team.

"Sadly, the MIAA hasn’t recognized the need to protect the health and safety of student athletes by adding Covid vaccination to the eligibility requirements. Instead of a vaccine mandate, or a statement advocating for vaccination, the MIAA website publishes a list of 'simple steps to take and make part of your everyday routine':

  • "Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • "Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Use Alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
  • "When coughing and sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. You can also cough or sneeze into your sleeve.
  • "Throw used tissues in the trash and immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • "Avoid sharing drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, dishes, towels or other items. Wash these items thoroughly with soap and water after use.
  • "Avoid close contact with people who are sick whenever possible.
  • "Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.
  • "Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

"Absent MIAA action, I would like us to explore the requirements we can impose on student athletes who compete on school department property. Can we require vaccination of our student athletes? Can we protect our student athletes by requiring visiting teams to provide proof of vaccination before they compete on our campus? Can we require anyone, who is not a student or employee, to present proof of vaccination as a requirement to enter our buildings?

Personal note

"On a personal note, on August 25, we were in Pennsylvania to celebrate my father’s 95th birthday. Fourteen days earlier, he was contact-traced and tested positive for Covid. Aside from a couple of days of feeling crappy, his most pronounced symptom during a 10-day quarantine was boredom. He was fully vaccinated earlier this year, and dad’s doctor said he is alive today because he was vaccinated.

"Vaccines work. Vaccines save lives. I recognize that, as a local board, there are limits to our authority. Those limits, however, should not prevent us from pushing at the limits of that envelope. We need to use every ounce of our authority, legal and moral, to require vaccination and stop the spread of this terrible virus."

Julianna Keyes, of the teachers' union, and committee Chairman Bill Hayner have been asked to comment. The latter responded that he supports Schlichtmn's statement.

Two follow-up questions

 Dr. Homan was asked two related questions, and she responded Sept. 12:

-- Does the memo with with the AEA require vaccinations for all, or is there an option for medical and/or religious exemptions, and, if so, would they be able to test weekly instead?

"There is an option for medical and religious exemptions," she wrote. "Those who apply for exemption must provide attestations from either their doctor or religious leaders. Individuals who qualify for an exemption must provide weekly evidence of a negative Covid-19 test result and wear a KN95 or similar high-filtration mask."

-- What are the chances that similar deals will soon be made with two other unions who have employees on campus and likely interact with students and others?

"Administrators fall under the same requirements as articulated in the AEA MOA," she wrote. "All staff members, regardless of unit, are required to either verify vaccination status or apply for exemption. All unvaccinated staff members, regardless of unit, are also required to wear a high-filtration mask and submit to weekly testing." 

The remainder of the meeting will be summarized later.

Watch the Sept. 9 meeting broadcast by ACMi:


Aug. 13, 2021: School chief recommends masks for on-campus students, staff, visitors

 


This news summary was published Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, and updated Sept. 12, to add responses to follow-up queries, as well as Sept. 14, to add ACMi video window.

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