Maryland lawmakers met to discuss how to better protect kids in the classroom as a new school year starts amid an uptick in coronavirus cases — and looked to one of the state’s largest school systems for guidance.
Monica Goldson, Ed.D., the CEO of Prince George’s County Public Schools, spoke before the Maryland Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Monday, and described how the school system has dealt with the pandemic in a county where the virus has surged.
Goldson said the school system surveyed 12,000 of the district’s 19,000 faculty and school staff to learn how to plan and facilitate a system to distribute COVID-19 vaccines and implement testing.
Testing for school-based staff will be provided in schools, Goldson told lawmakers. Central office staff will be required to visit hub locations for testing.
“We’re now working that out with vendors,” Goldson said.
COVID-19 vaccinations are available for school employees at the county’s Sports and Learning Complex.
The system has also focused on the rollout of mobile units to begin vaccinating student-athletes, which Goldson called a temporary solution on a path toward a more permanent one.
Prince George’s County hasn’t mandated student athletes be vaccinated, but is making the vaccines available.
Goldson said the district has four wellness centers at four high schools and six new schools that are being built that will also have wellness centers inside. However, the biggest challenge, she said, is vaccinating on campus.
“We have to tackle the red tape, the legal piece of it, of doing vaccinations on our site. We’re working through that,” she added. Goldson said the school system aims to begin vaccinating athletes in the coming weeks.
The Fairfax County school system, the largest in neighboring Virginia, announced this week it would mandate vaccines for high school athletes.
COVID-19 vaccine mandates were a big part of the conversation Monday.
While the vaccine manufactured by Pfizer has won full approval from the Food and Drug Administration for use in adults, the vaccine remains in emergency authorization use for children 12 and older. Even if the vaccine were granted full approval for use in children, one expert said officials should weigh their decision-making carefully.
“If you try to mandate a vaccine before you have widespread support you really risk public backlash,” said Dr. Daniel Salmon, with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Teachers and staff, however, are a different matter, according to Salmon.
“Teachers get to choose whether or not they want to be teachers and where they work and it’s an occupational hazard so I think it’s a lower bar,” he said.
Many school systems in Maryland, including Montgomery and Prince George’s counties — the state’s two largest — have already mandated that teachers and staff be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to regular testing.