School staff getting coronavirus vaccines this week

District partners with Stockbridge-Munsee to vaccinate most of its staff
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

The Shawano School District is going to a virtual format on Feb. 25, but the switch is not permanent.

The reason for the school buildings closing is because teachers and staff are going to be vaccinated with the help of the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe, which is also working with other school districts in Shawano County to vaccinate their employees. School district superintendent Randi Anderson and tribal president Shannon Holsey made the big announcement to local media in a phone conference on Feb. 23.

Anderson said that over 200 staff members have requested the doses, and the virtual learning format would allow staff to slip away to be vaccinated but not interrupt learning. She noted that the district has 330 staff members, so the vaccination effort would cover the lion’s share of the people that students and their families interact with every day.

“We have some additional people who are, as we’re getting closer, also thinking of getting the vaccine,” Anderson said. “The goal is to provide the vaccine for 100% of our staff who are interested in getting vaccinated, but we could be pushing 80%.”

The school district was made aware of the vaccine availability through a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe who works for the district, according to Anderson.

“We were able to reach out yesterday (Feb. 22), and within an hour, thanks to the leadership of the tribe, we were able to secure those vaccines for our staff,” Anderson said. “It was an absolutely amazing opportunity, and the leadership was phenomenal.”

Prior to getting cooperation from the Stockbridge-Munsee, the district had reached out to ThedaCare, Prevea, Bellin and the Shawano-Menominee Counties Health Department to see if teachers and staff could be included in vaccinations at some point.

“We were just fortunate that this partnership was able to deliver as quickly as they can,” Anderson said.

The tribe is getting its vaccinations through Moderna, according to Holsey. She added that almost 1,000 tribal members have received either both doses or just the first, and the tribe’s goal is to get to 80% of its population vaccinated, which would achieve the herd immunity needed to get life back to normal for the Stockbridge-Munsee.

“We started this back in October, so we’ve been planning for a very long time,” Holsey said. “The goal was always to get to herd vaccination so we could resume a safe environment to operate in, which would be inclusive of our schools.”

To that end, the tribe has already reached out to school districts in Bowler, Gresham and Wittenberg, according to Holsey, and she is also fielding requests from Bonduel and Tigerton school districts. Holsey said she reached out to the Shawano district not only because there are Stockbridge-Munsee students who attend, but there are also teachers who teach in the district.

“Critical to every community is education so certainly they were included in that overall distribution plan,” said Holsey, who noted that other front-line workers like police and emergency services are being included in the tribe’s vaccination efforts. “Our employees don’t just live in Bowler and Gresham. They live in the county proper.”

Holsey believes the tribe’s ability to show consistency in getting shots into arms has allowed it to receive more of the vaccine.

“Our tribal leadership has constantly advocated and been in contact with both our national and our state peers and advocates,” she said. “We’re not only getting people constantly COVID-19 tested, but we’re able to get them COVID-19 vaccinated, and that has always been the goal.”

The follow-up shot is expected to be delivered within a month. Anderson said she was uncertain over whether the schools would need to close again so employees could get the second shot, as it is possible the time frame might occur during the district’s spring break.

“This allows us to stay in school for the rest of the year, which is a wonderful statement to be able to make,” Anderson said. “With the continued masking, physical distancing and washing our hands frequently, and now, close to 80% of our staff vaccinated fully by the end of March, we will be in a position to be able to stay open — unless there are some unforeseen circumstances.”

The virtual learning days were necessary because of the high number of students having to be vaccinated, and since the vaccinations are taking place at the Mohican North Star Casino Resort, about 30 minutes west of the closest school, there was no way that in-person learning could commence.

“When we have 200 staff (members) getting the vaccine, it was impossible for us to fill that many subs to be able to ensure that our staff can support our students,” Anderson said. “Vaccines are hard to secure, and to be able to get them done in a single day is wonderful. It allows us to present more seamless instructional opportunities in learning once we get past these two days, and so we took advantage of it.”