Wisconsin's largest teachers union raises concerns about DHS ranking districts for vaccines

NOW: Wisconsin’s largest teachers union raises concerns about DHS ranking districts for vaccines

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Teachers and school staff across Wisconsin become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, March 1.

Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said during a media briefing on Thursday, Feb. 25, that the state plans to prioritize school districts 1-425 based on certain factors.

"We're gonna rank the districts, and we're going to use the percentage of students in free and reduced hot lunch and the percentage of students who are students of color as criteria for that," Willems Van Dijk said.

However, Wisconsin's largest teachers union says it was never told that. Ron Martin, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, told CBS 58 in an interview on Friday, Feb. 26, that the state never informed him of this plan.

"We meet every Monday with DHS and (the Department of Public Instruction), and that was never brought up," Martin said.

DHS said it asked health departments to submit plans on when they believed they would be able to vaccinate teachers and then DHS would create a master schedule with the districts ranked.

"It became very clear to us that everybody thought they were going to be able to (vaccinate all teachers) the first few weeks of March. And that, of course, simply is not feasible, given the vaccine supply we have here," Willems Van Dijk said. 

Martin said vaccines are crucial in getting teachers back in the classroom, and he was told one teacher would not be prioritized over another.

"We need to just get the vaccination out there. We start playing these games and rank who gets to go first and who gets to go second? It's just going to cause more confusion. There's too much confusion already," Martin said.

CBS 58 asked DHS for comment on WEAC's concerns. DHS spokesperson Elizabeth Goodsitt sent CBS 58 a statement saying:

"I can tell you our goal is to ensure our educators are protected. We recognize that they do important work in what can be challenging environments. At the same time, vaccine supply is limited. So as we open eligibility to our teachers, teacher’s aides, and child care workers, we hope they understand that not everyone will be able to be vaccinated first thing on March 1. The process could take four to six weeks. But we will get to everyone. And as we get more vaccine over the next few weeks, we are prepared to accelerate this plan as needed."

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