Massachusetts’ largest teachers union endorsed mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for all employees and eligible students in public schools and colleges on Tuesday, urging the Baker administration to work more closely with stakeholders as schools prepare to reopen for the new academic year.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) board voted 46 to 4 in favor of requiring vaccinations to return to school this fall, citing the rise and spread of the Delta variant. The union has previously called for universal masking in indoor public education settings, and asked for help upgrading ventilation systems, facilitating social distancing, and providing rapid access to COVID-19 testing for all students and staff.
The union said it supported regular COVID-19 testing for those not yet eligible for the vaccine or those for whom vaccination is "not medically advisable."
"We must do everything in our power to protect students, educators, public health, and all of our communities -- including communities of color, which, because of structural racism, have been hit the hardest by the coronavirus pandemic," MTA President Merrie Najimy said.
Gov. Charlie Baker has opposed a move toward universal masking in schools this fall, instead recommending that masks be worn by any students or staff who are unvaccinated and leaving the decision whether to go further to local officials. The governor has also rejected the idea of vaccine mandates, though he said Monday that the state would help facilitate hundreds of vaccine clinics between now and the opening of the school year to reach students and staff who have yet to get a shot.
MTA officials criticized the Baker administration's approach, asking them to work more closely with stakeholders, including unions. The union said they have not had any conversations with the state about contingency plans should the pandemic worsen this fall.
"Educators and our unions are doing everything in our power to ensure that public schools and colleges can open safely and stay open," Najimy said. "We continue to be alarmed by the failure of state political leaders to follow our example -- and their refusal to engage with other stakeholders during this critical time."
A spokeswoman for Education Secretary Jim Peyser said the administration had no response to the MTA's criticisms.