Parents of Ann Arbor Public Schools are calling on school leaders to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for its employees. AAPS was among the first districts in Michigan to require unvaccinated employees to submit to weekly testing in July.
AAPS parent Danielle Stockton said she believes weekly testing for unvaccinated employees is not enough to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and thinks AAPS should begin requiring its employees to get vaccinated to continue working in the school system.
“If anything should remain open, besides businesses and everything else, it should be schools for children for in-person learning, for those who need it,” Stockton said. “Especially special education and special needs where at-home learning is not feasible.”
The vaccinate-or-test model is consistent with the Biden administration’s recent vaccine mandate. However, some AAPS parents like Stockton say this does not go far enough.
In a Sept. 13 email obtained by The Michigan Daily, AAPS Superintendent Jeanice Swift told an AAPS parent that the district is increasing its support for vaccine uptake among its current and new staff, but no staff vaccine mandate has been put in place.
“Following the recent FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine and the President’s subsequent call for vaccines last Thursday evening, (AAPS is) continuing to increase our support to compel continuing and new team members arriving in our system during back-to-school hiring season to ensure they are fully vaccinated,” Swift wrote. “At this time we have achieved extremely high rates of vaccination among our AAPS school staff.”
Currently, the district has seen 56 total COVID-19 cases across the school system since the fall semester began on Aug. 27. However, cases have trended upwards in recent weeks, with 23 cases reported for the week of Sep. 24, the highest case count for any week since the semester started. Officials at Dicken Elementary announced this past week that one classroom would switch to remote learning following two positive cases.
Stockton pointed to the upward trend as a reason to pursue staff vaccinations more aggressively — especially in elementary schools where some students are ineligible to be vaccinated, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends only children 12 years and up to get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. On Tuesday, Pfizer Inc. submitted initial trial data for vaccinating 5-11 year olds and will submit a request for emergency use in the coming weeks, though approval could be stalled until Halloween to Thanksgiving.
“If cases are on the rise within schools, this is a perfect example of (asking), ‘OK, what can we do to not let this happen to other elementary schools and some middle schools?’” Stockton said. “Obviously, (the elementary and middle schools) are probably more of the hot spots than the high schools, just because of the availability of the vaccine for older kids.”
AAPS does not publish vaccination data from its employees, citing HIPAA protections. District officials did not immediately reply to a Michigan Daily request for comment.
In an email to Kate Sweeney, an Ann Arbor resident and Stockton’s mother, whose grandchild is enrolled in the AAPS district, Swift defended the district’s existing policy, saying it is among the most stringent in the state. Sweeney said she believed vaccines are the most effective way to protect the AAPS community and was frustrated by the district’s decision to implement the vaccinate-or-test model.
“It’s an elementary concept, mandatory vaccines,” Sweeney said. “I just feel like (AAPS) should be taking the leadership role.”
Sweeney said it is important for school employees to be vaccinated so kids who rely on their schools for support can continue attending in person.
“These kids have been through a lot with virtual school (with) the experience of learning over the past year,” Sweeney said. “I think the staff was doing the best that they could, but it still was not replacing the experience of face-to-face learning. And it’s pretty important when you see changes in kids now being back and how important that is for their learning and social development.”
Daily Staff Reporters Dominic Coletti and Vanessa Kiefer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.