At tonight’s meeting, the Arlington School Committee unanimously approved a Memorandum of Agreement with the Arlington Education Association that includes a vaccination mandate. (The district reports that our current staff vaccination rate is 97.3%.) Subsequent to the vote, I read the following statement:
Here in Arlington, we are striving to create the safest possible environment for our students and staff.
I am grateful to the Arlington Education Association for partnering with Superintendent Homan and the school committee to agree to a vaccine mandate for our educators. Thank you. Data from across the nation demonstrates this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and the only path out of the current national quagmire of severe illness and death is through widespread vaccination.
Our staff recognizes the special obligation we have to our children, younger than age 12, who are currently ineligible for the COVID vaccine. Masking is important, but vaccination is the key to suppressing COVID in our schools and community.
What about our students who have celebrated their twelfth birthday? If I had my way, we would be enacting a requirement for every vaccine eligible student, but the list of required vaccinations is governed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The DPH should act now, but in the face of state inaction, we need to look to other opportunities to curtail the virus through vaccination.
Not all school activities pose the same risk of COVID transmission. Students participating in athletic competition are often in close contact with other participants, with a respiration rate up to four times that of a student sitting in a classroom.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletics Association (MIAA) governs every athletic program in the Commonwealth. There is no right to participate in athletics; in fact, the MIAA has a thicket of eligibility requirements for students, and playing a game with an ineligible student is punished with an automatic loss for the team.
Sadly, the MIAA hasn’t recognized the need to protect the health and safety of student athletes by adding COVID vaccination to the eligibility requirements. Instead of a vaccine mandate, or a statement advocating for vaccination, the MIAA website publishes a list of “simple steps to take and make part of your everyday routine:”
· Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
· Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Use Alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
· When coughing and sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. You can also cough or sneeze into your sleeve.
· Throw used tissues in the trash and immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
· Avoid sharing drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, dishes, towels or other items. Wash these items thoroughly with soap and water after use.
· Avoid close contact with people who are sick whenever possible.
· Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.
· Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
Absent MIAA action, I would like us to explore the requirements we can impose on student athletes who compete on school department property. Can we require vaccination of our student athletes? Can we protect our student athletes by requiring visiting teams to provide proof of vaccination before they compete on our campus? Can we require anyone, who is not a student or employee, to present proof of vaccination as a requirement to enter our buildings?
On a personal note, on August 25, we were in Pennsylvania to celebrate my father’s 95th birthday. Fourteen days earlier, he was contact-traced and tested positive for COVID. Aside from a couple of days of feeling crappy, his most pronounced symptom during a ten-day quarantine was boredom. He was fully vaccinated earlier this year, and dad’s doctor said he is alive today because he was vaccinated.
Vaccines work. Vaccines save lives. I recognize that, as a local board, there are limits to our authority. Those limits, however, should not prevent us from pushing at the limits of that envelope. We need to use every ounce of our authority, legal and moral, to require vaccination and stop the spread of this terrible virus.