November 1 was the deadline for Milwaukee public school employees to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or request an exemption. Employees who fail to comply will be placed on unpaid leave on Nov. 15, according to the district.
Human resources chief Adria Maddaleni said on Tuesday that of about 12,000 full-time and part-time employees, 80% submitted proof of vaccination and 8% requested religious or medical accommodations.
That means 12% have yet to comply with the mandate – risking unpaid leave.
“We communicated with schools and departments, let them know the numbers and expectations, and got them thinking internally about the preparations – like how do you get coverage if the contingency happens that you’re going to have. a certain amount of staff outside the building? ”says Maddeleni.
If hundreds of employees are put on unpaid leave on November 15, it will increase the challenges for already understaffed schools. Maddaleni said HR is trying to prepare for potential gaps.
“We have been working with our temp agencies – we have informed them that we are going to need all the support possible to fill any potential absences as a result,” Maddaleni said. “Otherwise, we are still recruiting and have stepped up our recruiting efforts. “
Another question is how schools with vaccination mandates will handle requests for religious accommodations. This seems to be a gray area for employers, since no major religion formally opposes vaccination.
>> Judging a “sincere” religious belief is tricky for employers who demand vaccines
The vast majority of the 934 accommodation requests received by MPS are for religious reasons: 92%
Maddaleni expects to approve most of them.
“We definitely take an approach where we take people at their word and we basically deal with [requests] as their good faith religious belief, “Maddaleni said.” We will endorse it and go from there. “
Unvaccinated MPS employees with approved accommodations will need to be tested for COVID weekly.
Milwaukee Excellence Charter School may also take a flexible approach when it comes to religious exemptions. Marketing and development associate Danielle Borja said the school is already understaffed and doesn’t want to lose staff. Milwaukee Excellence has given staff a deadline of November 15 to submit proof of vaccination or an accommodation request.
“I’m not the person who is going to review all the exemptions, but from what I know of our organization, we will give that benefit of the doubt,” Borja said. “Because we have very high quality teachers, and it would be almost wrong to fire them on the basis of religious beliefs. “
Another charter school with a vaccination mandate, Rocketship Transformation Prep, takes a more stringent approach. Executive director Brittany Kinser said her human resources team had not approved any religious exemptions at their two Milwaukee schools.
Kinser explained why Rocketship decided to institute a vaccination requirement.
“We decided to make the vaccine mandatory because we knew it was really important to keep our schools open, and it was really difficult the first two months of school because we had about 20 staff who had to quarantine due to COVID, ”Kinser said. “Running a school with staff was very difficult. “
Kinser and assistant manager Mia Harvey spent weeks chatting one-on-one with employees reluctant to get vaccinated.
“It was definitely not easy,” Harvey said. “I must have done a few laps – I’m definitely coming back to ‘I listen to you, I feel you and I like you. “And just like,” Do you know how important it is for you to be here? Think about the children you would miss. Think about the children you have formed relationships with, think about how much they depend on you. “”
Kinser and Harvey say the conversations worked. The school on the north side of Rocketship has gone from 50% of staff vaccinated in September to 100% vaccinated now. Two out of about 80 employees left because of the mandate.
Similar conversations are probably happening at MPS schools now, as the November 15 deadline approaches, when non-compliant staff must be placed on unpaid leave.
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