While National Education Association President Becky Pringle recently told The Atlantic the organization backs "requiring vaccinations for all people who work with our students or submitting to regular testing," she is wary of issuing mandates, except perhaps when it comes to students being required to wear masks in school.
"We believe that all educators have the right to have a union that works with them and the district to keep our students and educators safe," Pringle said in an interview released last week. "Some employees will have to have accommodations. We know that is a reality. And so it is absolutely essential that educators and their representatives have the opportunity to have those kinds of conversations."
"The No. 1 thing is to keep our students safe," she added. "To do that, we have to follow the science."
She noted, "we're seeing some of our children's hospitals overrun because [the delta] variant is impacting our students to a greater degree."
"We have from the very beginning called for the vaccination of everyone," she continued. "Everyone who can be vaccinated needs to be vaccinated. In the early spring, we fought to get educators prioritized, but we didn't just stop there. Right now, we're partnering with the Department of Education to raise vaccination rates among our students who are 12 and up. Ninety percent of our educators are vaccinated. We believe that anyone who is working with kids should be vaccinated. That's why we called for the vaccination of all adults who work with students, or to submit to regular testing."
She added, "what we have said is that we support requiring vaccinations for all people who work with our students or submitting to regular testing. That's our position."
When asked directly if she does not support vaccine mandates, Pringle said, "We are calling for districts and employers to work directly with educators and their unions to address the complexities of vaccinations and accommodations that will need to be made for educators."
She later added, "We know the complexities of vaccinations. We have to make sure that school districts work with educators to address accommodations that need to be made, whether it is [reaching] those who have not yet been vaccinated or ensuring that any adults who are with students are being tested."
When asked about mask mandates in schools, Pringle said: "The pushback on masks has posed challenges in some areas. I will say, the NEA has tried to get a deeper understanding of what's actually happening versus what's being reported. When some parents demand that their students have the right to not wear a mask, it gets a lot of attention and media coverage. In most cases, parents want their students to go back to school wearing masks."
She continued, "That loud minority is there, and it does concern our educators. But it doesn't necessarily reflect the majority opinion, even in rural or conservative areas. Educators all over the country are speaking up. Parents are speaking up, too. They understand that it can't be this vocal minority who seem to be winning the day when that is not the case. It's not. Most parents want everything done to keep their kids safe. Most parents want their students to be back to in-person learning, and they know that for that to happen, every mitigation strategy has to be put in place: vaccinations, masks, cleaning, ventilation, distancing."
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