MILWAUKEE — President Joe Biden is calling on governors across the country to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all teachers and school staff in an effort to keep schools open and to limit the spread of the virus.
Governor Tony Evers has yet to say whether he will follow through on the president’s plea to impose the requirement, but a political expert expects a major political battle in the courts if the governor does.
Marybeth Studelska is a Mequon teacher, but she’s taking this year off due to a health issue she’s facing. While Marybeth is vaccinated, she says she can’t afford to be around other educators who choose not to get their shots.
“I was recently diagnosed with heart failure and so that means my heart isn't working well, and I also have an arrhythmia and so that puts me at a higher risk for complications if I were to get the virus,” she said.
That’s why Marybeth says she would support Governor Evers if he issued a vaccine mandate for teachers and school staff.
Patrick Schiel’s wife is a teacher, and he says they’re both vaccinated, but Patrick thinks educators should have the freedom to make that decision for themselves.
"If they want to get vaccinated, great,” he said. “If not, that's their choice too, but I know a lot of people are going to have their own opinions as well."
Milwaukee Public Schools voted Thursday to mandate vaccines for teachers by November 1. The Madison School District is proposing the same at a meeting later this month.
Nine other states currently have vaccination requirements for K-12 staff, including Illinois.
The Wisconsin Education Association Council represents teachers and school support staff across the state. While the council’s president wouldn’t say if they support a vaccine mandate for educators, Peggy Wirtz-Olsen says every adult who enters a school building should be vaccinated.
"Our position has been clear on this issue,” she said. “As educators, we stand with nurses, we stand with the medical professionals and the scientists in our recommendation that being vaccinated is a way to keep our schools open and in-person learning happening and our students and their families safe."
Charles Franklin with the Marquette University Law School says it’s unclear if Governor Evers has the authority to issue a teacher vaccine mandate at this point in the pandemic due to previous court rulings.
The republican-controlled legislature has tapped Wisconsin’s conservative-leaning Supreme Court several times during the pandemic to overturn mitigation efforts like the ‘Safer at Home’ order and the statewide mask mandate.
" Given the legislative response and the rulings of the court over the last year, that authority that we thought he had to manage a public health emergency has been substantially eroded which leaves us at a point of it not being clear whether the governor actually has the authority to take action now or not,” Franklin said.