Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said Monday she would support a vaccine mandate for educators — with some exceptions. Tang’s stance follows remarks made by the head of the union’s umbrella organization indicating the group could change its initial policy that made vaccines voluntary for educators.
Educators in Boston should be required to either get vaccinated or submit to regular coronavirus testing if they have medical or religious exemptions from the vaccine, Tang said.
“We are in a situation where we really want to make sure all our schools are open in person in the fall,” Tang said, emphasizing that it’s a top priority for her union’s members. The union also has been pushing for other coronavirus protocols to be followed in schools to “keep everybody as safe as possible,” especially students who are “medically fragile” or live with immunocompromised family members.
“We have to ensure [we have] as many mitigation efforts as we can,” she said.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” on Sunday she has had a change of heart regarding vaccine requirements. Weingarten said she is reconsidering her organization’s earlier plan to make vaccines voluntary for educators. The spread of the Delta variant has been alarming, Weingarten said, and she plans to bring union leadership together to consider changing their policy.
The union would still plan to honor religious or medical exemptions to vaccines, she said.
“I do think that the circumstances have changed, and that vaccination is a community responsibility, and it weighs really heavily on me that kids under 12 can’t get vaccinated,” Weingarten said.
As of Aug. 2, 90 percent of educators and school staff members nationwide were vaccinated, according to a fact sheet from the White House. In Boston, Tang said she’s confident the majority of educators are vaccinated, but the union hasn’t tracked exactly how many; she hopes the city or state will step up to track educator vaccinations.
Tang said she knows a vaccine mandate could face some pushback from educators who want to remain unvaccinated. But “as inconvenient as it is,” she said, “we have to look out for each other.”
Beth Kontos, president of the AFT Massachusetts chapter, said in a statement that the local union has not taken an official position on vaccine mandates, but “amid the current surge of the Delta variant, we are actively discussing the issue with our members, parents, and other members of our school communities.”
“We’re encouraging school districts to support local vaccination campaigns by offering in-school vaccination clinics this fall, and will continue working to ensure that everyone in our communities can learn the facts and get vaccinated to protect themselves and others,” Kontos wrote.
Regarding a possible vaccine mandate, Massachusetts Teachers Association president Merrie Najimy said only that her group “continues to deliberate about the best ways to protect students’ safety and public health as we return to full in-person learning — a goal that educators share with parents and our communities.” The MTA is the largest teachers union in Massachusetts.
“The MTA is urgently calling on Governor Charlie Baker to require face coverings for all staff and students in preK-to-12 schools when classes resume, as well as to ensure widespread access to COVID-19 testing and vaccines and that school buildings have proper ventilation systems,” Najimy wrote in a statement.