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School takes jab at encouraging teacher vaccinations

LANSING — Some Detroit teachers can now receive $500 and 16 hours of vacation time if they get a COVID-19 vaccine before June 30.

That’s the closest a Michigan school district has come to a vaccine requirement, according to education leaders.

The Michigan Education Association reports that almost 90% of surveyed school employees have had at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The MEA is the state’s largest union of teachers and other school personnel.

Chrystal Wilson, the assistant superintendent of communications for Detroit Public Schools, said the district is working with the Detroit Health Department to improve vaccine access in schools.

That included a recent “neighborhood vaccine week,” which was an opportunity for anyone 16 or older in the city to receive the vaccine.

Since getting a vaccine is not mandatory, it is also not mandatory for teachers to report getting vaccinated.

To receive the incentive, employees must report receiving the vaccine.

However, after an email about the incentives for teachers, the number of teachers who reported getting vaccinated shot up by 10%, Wilson said.

Detroit Public Schools is not sharing the number of its vaccinated teachers with the public, however.

Even though there is no incentive for students to get vaccinated, Wilson said the district encourages those who are old enough to do it.

MEA President Paula Herbart said, “These numbers are a bright spot as Michigan weathers our current wave of COVID cases. While most educators are vaccinated, most of our students are not, and we’re concerned about their safety.”

David Crim, an MEA communications consultant, said vaccines are available for students 16 and older, but that still leaves most of the school-age population unable to be vaccinated, Crim said.

The 10- to 19-year-old age group is where cases are skyrocketing, he said, and classes will likely be more in-person in the 2021-22 school year.

However, they will likely look similar to this year’s in terms of mask-wearing, partitions between desks and social distancing.

Jennifer Smith, the director of government relations for the Michigan Association of School Boards, said that even though next year will likely have more face-to-face instruction, “we need to finish up this year before we start looking to next year.”

Crim said, “Hopefully, we have dispelled the notion that younger students can’t get sick, can’t get hospitalized and can’t die. That was a myth.

Even though he is unaware of any vaccination requirement for students, Crim said he could see such a future requirement, similar to one for other school-age vaccines such as that for chickenpox.

He also said districts have the authority to choose to mandate a vaccine for students, but exceptions are possible for religious reasons.

For school employees, there is a required collective bargaining process that must be followed for health and safety issues, including vaccine requirements, Crim said.

If districts were to require vaccines without bargaining with employees, it would be labeled an unfair labor practice, he said.

Crim said he is unaware of any other vaccine requirements or incentives for students or teachers for getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

The MEA has no position on vaccine requirements, but Crim said he encourages all students and all 120,000 member educators to get vaccinated.

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