While some states are starting to announce COVID-19 vaccine requirements for teachers, school and union leaders in several Maine districts said it isn’t something they are discussing.

Superintendents and local union leaders said they believe teacher vaccination rates in Maine, which the state soon will be collecting and sharing publicly, are high and a mandate may not be necessary, though some said it is something they would support.

“I could get behind it, but just on an anecdotal basis I feel like most of my colleagues are already fully vaccinated,” said Beth Donohoe, president of the Biddeford Teachers Association. “I kind of feel like it wouldn’t be necessary, but who knows. The delta variant throws such a new twist to all of it.”

Three states – Connecticut, Washington and Oregon – announced vaccine mandates for K-12 teachers and staff Thursday. The announcements came about a week after California became the first state to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for teachers and staff on Aug. 11.

Teachers unions in Massachusetts and New Hampshire have voiced support for vaccine mandates, and the National Education Association said last week that it backs a requirement that all teachers either receive a COVID-19 vaccine or submit to regular testing.

The movement on teacher vaccine mandates in other states comes as requirements for other groups such as state employees and health care workers also are being considered. Maine is one of several states that has announced a mandate for health care workers.

Asked whether Maine would consider a vaccination mandate for teachers, Lindsay Crete, a spokeswoman for Gov. Janet Mills, said in an email Friday that the administration’s focus is on health care facilities because of their critical roles in responding to COVID-19.

Maine Education Association President Grace Leavitt did not respond to phone messages or an email Friday.

Meanwhile, several superintendents said they haven’t discussed a vaccine mandate for teachers and staff, citing what they believe to be their high vaccination rates. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has said it will start collecting staff vaccination rates from school districts on Sept. 1 and will be posting the rates each month.

“I think it’s very high, definitely, with the response we’ve gotten so far I would say 90 percent plus,” Old Orchard Beach Superintendent John Suttie said. The town of Old Orchard Beach has a 99 percent vaccination rate, according to Maine CDC data, and Suttie said he would be surprised if the rate for school district staff wasn’t similar. “I know when the vaccinations were rolled out last spring there was a lot of interest,” he said.

“At this point we’ve had no conversations about mandatory vaccinations for our teachers,” South Portland Superintendent Tim Matheney said, noting that the district already is collecting the staff vaccination rates. He wasn’t able to provide preliminary numbers, but said the data is showing high rates of vaccination.

“We’re pleased our staff has embraced that responsibility in light of the pandemic,” Matheney said.

Sarah Gay, a gifted reading teacher at elementary and middle schools in South Portland and a union representative for the South Portland Education Association, agrees with the superintendent that it’s likely most staff already are vaccinated. “Anecdotally, almost everyone I’ve spoken with in the district over the last year has (been vaccinated),” Gay said. “I don’t think I’ve spoken with a teacher who has admitted they’re not vaccinated and most, actually, we’ve shared war stories of the first 24-hour effects and things like that. It seems to be a very wide majority.”

Gay, who is vaccinated and has several family members who are high-risk or immunocompromised, said it could still be a good idea to mandate vaccines for teachers. “This is a health and safety tool,” she said. “Not using it seems irresponsible. I would hope schools would get on board with that with the same way we have gotten on board with testing for lead in the water in the buildings and ensuring safe egress for students with disabilities.”

In Biddeford, Donohoe said her district also hasn’t had any discussions yet regarding teacher vaccine mandates. Donohoe said a mandate could be helpful in fighting the pandemic and she believes most teachers would likely support it, though just like with health care workers, there would be some who don’t.

“I think we’re a fairly highly vaccinated population anyway but there will always be a few who for a variety of reasons aren’t going to want to be vaccinated,” Donohoe said.

In Portland, Superintendent Xavier Botana said this week that the district would be collecting staff vaccination rates, which would likely be available by the board’s first September meeting. A survey of Portland Public Schools employees last spring indicated 95 percent of respondents had been vaccinated or were planning to be. The survey only drew 654 responses, however, which represents about 47 percent of the total number of employees.

“If the original staff survey was representative and 95 percent were already vaccinated then I would say it would be unnecessary to implement a vaccination mandate,” Botana said at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Portland Education Association President Carrie Foster said Friday that the district’s teachers union is closely following the news of vaccine mandates in other states and around the country.

“While we know through some preliminary outreach that many of our members support vaccination for those who are medically able, we’re still in the process of collecting data from our entire membership,” Foster said in an email. “We’ll know more by the time the board meets again.”

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