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Maryland Lawmakers Push For Teacher Vaccine Mandate

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With school set to start in just a few weeks and COVID-19 cases on the rise, some state lawmakers are calling for a vaccine mandate for Maryland’s teachers.

Last year, dominant strains of COVID-19 posed the greatest health risk to adults, while children were less likely to face severe illness or hospitalization. Still, students attended school remotely, largely to protect the adults around them.

But now, “the game has changed,” Del. Stephanie Smith, a Democrat and chair of the Baltimore City House delegation, said during a legislative briefing Wednesday.

The delta variant, which is now the dominant strain in the United States, may be more dangerous for children than previous iterations of the virus. Yet children younger than 12 are not yet eligible for any available COVID-19 vaccines.

“Now at this moment, the people that really have no medical option to prevent, you know, transmission, they're really depending on all adults to kind of make the same kind of sacrifices they were asked to do with a component of their childhood that they can't get back,” said Smith, who has a child under 12 in Baltimore City Public Schools.

She said teachers and any other adults who come into contact with children under 12 owe it to them to get vaccinated.

“Literally, my child, other people under 12, they've had to sit in the house to protect adults, and now all we're asking is adults to put something on the line for them,” Smith said. “It just feels like it's not equal, and they obviously don't have the political, social or any other voice to assert themselves. And it's literally a matter of life or death."

Other state lawmakers made similar comments during Wednesday’s briefing.

However, organizations representing teachers and school superintendents did not voice explicit support for a mandate.

“We support the districts having that conversation — to have proof of vaccination and if you're not vaccinated, to have frequent testing,” said Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association. “We are open to that — having those discussions at our local levels.”

The Baltimore Teachers Union has not yet polled members on the question of a vaccine mandate, so it does not yet have a position, said President Diamonté Brown.

And from the local school superintendents’ perspective, any vaccine mandate should be statewide.

“I think there's pretty general agreement among at least the superintendents that we would like to see this be a state initiative,” said Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Sean Bulson, who spoke Wednesday on behalf of the Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland.

However, he said, some local districts are taking up the issue, which he said is a “difficult subject.”

Del. Eric Ebersole, a Democrat who represents parts of Baltimore and Howard counties, asked whether school leaders are discussing requiring eligible students to get the vaccine after the Food and Drug Administration fully approves it, something that is expected in the coming weeks.

“We discuss it sort of theoretically amongst ourselves,” Bulson said. “But, you know, has this been a conversation with the Health Department? It's not an ongoing discussion, but I think that would be something that should be happening.”

State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury left the meeting, which occurred over Zoom, before the discussion about vaccine mandates. Before he left, he reiterated the Maryland State Department of Education’s guidance on vaccines, which was released in July.

“We strongly recommend that all individuals who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask, and then we also strongly, strongly recommend, get the vaccine,” he said.

In a statement sent Wednesday evening, State Department of Education spokeswoman Lora Rakowski said decisions about vaccine mandates and regular COVID-19 testing would be made by local school districts.

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