By Lori Higgins

The Detroit school district is investing heavily into weekly COVID testing for students and staff as a way to keep schools open. But will it be enough? Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said this week that inevitably, it may become necessary to require COVID vaccines for staff.

On Friday morning Vitti, who helms the Detroit Public Schools Community District, responded to questions from Chalkbeat about the possible mandate. He also discussed it Thursday morning in a CNN interview, hours before President Joe Biden called on states to mandate vaccines for K-12 school staff.

Nine states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Washington) as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have vaccination requirements for school staff.

The district already is doing a significant amount of testing — spending $70 million of $1.2 billion this year in federal COVID relief money to test staff and students. The testing is required for staff and student athletes, but for all other students, parental consent is needed.

But no decision has been made about requiring vaccines for staff.

“We will continue to balance the positives and negatives of mandating the vaccine and collaboratively arrive at a decision that we believe is best for our students, employees, and the community,” Vitti said.

Terrence Martin, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers — the largest employee union in the district — wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Benjamin Royal, a district teacher who has been active in calling for a shutdown of in-person learning, said “I’m certainly for mandating vaccinations. It’s a protective measure to keep kids healthy, and to keep staff healthy.”

But Royal, an active member of a vocal faction of the union, said the district shouldn’t stop with staff if Vitti decides to mandate vaccines.

“We’ve got to get to a point where it’s mandatory for students to be vaccinated too,” Royal said. “That’s the only way to maximize the protection to people in buildings.”

Currently, there is no vaccine for children under the age of 12.

Here are Vitti’s responses, via email, to questions about testing and vaccines:

For the rest of the story, go to the BridgeDetroit website.