Detroit school district issues vaccine mandate for teachers

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The Detroit Public Schools Community District is requiring vaccinations against COVID-19 for all teachers and staff by February.

The district's board of education approved the mandate during a special board meeting Thursday.

According to district documents, "all employees (including new hires) must be fully vaccinated as a term and condition of employment by February 18, 2022. However, if employees request and are granted a medical or religious exemption from the vaccine mandate ... such employees must provide proof of regular testing for COVID-19 and wear face coverings."

Failure to comply with the requirements "will subject the employee to discipline, up to and including termination," the district said. 

Approximately 80% of district staff have been vaccinated so far, spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson said Thursday.

The decision comes amid concerns about high COVID-19 cases and the new omicron variant in Michigan, and weeks after the district opted to shift to remote learning on Fridays this month.

Michigan added 11,722 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 330 deaths from the virus on Wednesday.  The additions brought the state totals to 1,408,189 confirmed cases and 25,570 deaths since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Top health officials have described the state's virus situation as "critical," and urged vaccinations and boosters as well as masking amid a fourth surge of the virus that has spurred record levels of hospitalizations.

Based on recent data from most Michigan health systems, Michigan's Health and Hospital Association found that 3 in 4 COVID patients are unvaccinated (76%), 87% of COVID ICU patients are unvaccinated and 88% of COVID ventilator patients are unvaccinated.

Last week, Michigan identified its first case of the highly contagious omicron variant in Kent County after it first was identified in the U.S. on Dec. 1.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Health Department reports cases have consistently climbed above 100 confirmed COVID-19 cases daily in the last three months. 

According to its website, the Detroit Public Schools Community District reported 154 student and staff cases this week. There were 218 students and 22 staff quarantined, while the district positivity rate was 1.54% last week, the data showed.

During a regular board meeting Tuesday, members discussed the employee vaccine mandate and why it's needed.

"From a data point of view, when we think about unvaccinated employees ... there's been 150 unvaccinated positive cases since the beginning of the school year that led  483 students to be quarantined and another 99 staff members to be quarantined," Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said.

"So, you know, that's one too many. And this policy, I think, is a step toward using the tools that are now available to us in this pandemic to keep students in school learning Monday through Friday so we can see the student achievement that we were seeing before the pandemic."

Board president Angelique Peterson-Mayberry agreed, citing other districts exploring the option. "This is the way that people are going into because this is a step needed for us to avoid that interruption in the educational process," she said.

Vitti added the district was exploring whether it can impose a vaccine mandate on students.