By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers’ Department of Health Services plans to put teachers in the Madison and Milwaukee school districts at the front of the COVID-19 vaccine line — even as those educators have led a year-long resistance movement against re-opening schools.
In the case of the Madison Metropolitan School District, teachers who considered faking COVID-19 symptoms to protest the return to in-person learning will get their shots before teachers in schools that have safely been educating students for months in classrooms.
Teachers are among the next phase of Wisconsinites to be vaccinated, following the first group that included frontline health care workers, long-term care residents, and people 65 and older — the population at most risk.
At a recent update, COVID-19 media briefing, DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the agency will rank Wisconsin’s 400-plus school districts based on the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced school lunch and the percentage of students of color.
“We know these are populations of students who they and their families have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic,” Van Dijk said. “So we feel it’s important that we get vaccine to their school districts early on. And, again, very quickly we will follow through all of the school school districts.”
The health bureaucrat said it’s a mistake to assume that teachers in urban areas will automatically be first in line, that there are many rural school districts that have high rates of poverty. Child poverty rates are highest in Wisconsin’s urban districts. Nearly 40 percent of Milwaukee Public Schools students are living below the poverty level.
But what does the rate of poverty in a district have to do with fairly distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to teachers?
State Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Ima), says it has everything to do with the Democratic governor’s base of political support.
“It’s Gov. Evers caring about two areas of the state only,” she said. “He doesn’t give a rat’s ass about northern Wisconsin and rural Wisconsin because they didn’t vote for him.”
Felzkowski said the vaccine should first go to older teachers and educators with health complications.
“If I’ve got a 30-year-old teacher in Milwaukee with no underlying health problems, why would I give her a vaccine before a 65-year-old teacher in Antigo?” the senator said.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden said all states should prioritize teachers and school staff for the COVID vaccine. He said he wants every educator to receive their first shot by the end of the month.
State Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) said the Evers administration’s latest vaccine priority plan is “grounded in identity politics.” He said the first few months of the COVID-19 distribution “have put many of the pitfalls of unchecked, government central planning on full display.”
“As a result, school districts that have offered little to no in-person instruction over the past twelve months are being rewarded for placing the interests of teachers’ unions above the best interests of children and families,” Stroebel said.
He notes the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, whose president has said vaccination of teachers may not be enough for its members to return to the classroom this year.
As Empower Wisconsin first reported, Madison public school teachers were planning a “sick-out” to protest against Madison Metropolitan School District’s plan to resume in-person learning after nearly a year of failed virtual education.
“As the teachers’ unions scramble to prepare their next ultimatum and exercise in goalpost-shifting, Wisconsin taxpayers can rest easy knowing that teachers who may not return to the classroom for the foreseeable future are being given top priority for COVID-19 vaccination,” Stroebel sarcastically said.