This afternoon (1/18) the WASB submitted written comments via email to the Department of Health Services and its State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee’s Vaccine Subcommittee regarding its draft Phase 1B vaccine distribution recommendations.
The email read:
“The Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) is a voluntary membership association representing all 421 of Wisconsin’s locally elected public school boards, including roughly 2,800 school board members, serving in Wisconsin’s largest communities to its smallest communities.
“WASB members are deeply concerned about disruption of student learning and school activities that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. Our public schools provide essential services to our communities and to nearly 840,000 students. These schools provide safe places for students to learn. They feed and nurture students. They relieve parents of caretaking responsibilities during the workday. And, most importantly, these schools teach our students valuable lessons.
“From a learning standpoint, we know that in-person instruction is more effective than remote learning, and more equitable, too. However, the matter of how to provide in-person instruction safely—in a manner that protects the health of all students, staff, parents and community members—is also of vital concern. Prioritizing the vaccination of our educators and those school personnel who are essential to the delivery of educational services is a key to ensuring the continuity of in-person instruction.
“The WASB welcomes the draft Phase 1B recommendations of the SDMAC’s Vaccine Subcommittee that would include K-12 educators among the essential workforce to receive vaccinations in Phase 1B. We see this as an essential step toward returning our schools to more normal, in-person operation on a sustainable basis.
“As employers, we are concerned, however, about one aspect of the draft recommendations that is a sort of Catch-22 and urge that it be corrected. In an odd twist, it appears some educators who arguably ought to be prioritized run a risk of being excluded from Phase 1B distribution under the draft recommendations if they are working from home because they are at high risk of serious complications from the virus.
“In other words, despite being high-risk, these educators would be denied access to the vaccine under the draft recommendations because their school boards, as their employers, attempted to protect them from harmful exposure to the virus and serious medical complications that would likely result from their contracting the virus. This hardly makes sense as we attempt to return our schools to safe and equitable in-person instruction for all students. If we could vaccinate these teachers and protect them from the risk of complications, we could allay their fears and safely return them to the classroom, contributing to our ability to conduct in-person instruction.
“We note that language in the draft recommendations (see paragraph on “PUBLIC-FACING ESSENTIAL WORKERS” on page 2) states:
“The (Vaccine) Subcommittee asks the public and employers to only select those who are at risk due to performing public-facing positions with considerations of frequency, intensity, and duration of contact, and ability to mitigate. Employees who are able to work from home, perform most tasks outdoors, or have limited engagement with the public are asked to delay vaccination until supply is robust.” (emphasis added)
“In addition, we note language in Appendix E (see bottom paragraph on p. 15) states:
“– Vaccination should be offered to any individual faculty, staff or administrator in child care/preschool, K-12 and post-secondary educational settings, for whom direct interaction with students is required for achievement of appropriate educational outcomes.” (emphasis added)
“While WASB members appreciate and strongly support the inclusion of educators in the Phase 1B draft recommendations, we urge you to adjust the recommendations to protect all teachers who are engaged in instructing students so that they may safely return to the classroom for in-person instruction. The current draft recommendation stands in the way of enabling all teachers to do so and should be amended.
“Thank you for your work and thank you for your consideration of these comments.
“Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB)”