Most central Maine school districts are behind the statewide vaccination average for staff members, according to a dashboard for public school employees released Wednesday by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and state Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

Statewide, 75.6% of school staff members are fully vaccinated, meaning they have received two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the one-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. Among the Maine central operation staff, 68.8% are fully vaccinated.

The Maine DHHS and CDC collected student vaccination data and made it available before the 2021-22 school year began.

Schools districts are responsible for collecting the data by the 10th of every month by surveying staff anonymously.

The latest vaccination rates are from before Sept. 10. If a staff vaccination rate changes, districts are able to add it to the next month’s data.

If staff members choose not to respond to the survey, their vaccination status will be displayed as if they are not vaccinated. Several superintendents said they believed a low response from staff members drove down the data, possibly rendering the vaccination rates inaccurate.

That may be the case with Maine School Administrative District 49, which includes Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield. Five of the district’s six schools have vaccination rates so low they are among the bottom 20 schools in the state. The lowest vaccine rate in the district is at Clinton Elementary School, with 19.5%, and the highest was Lawrence Junior High School, at 39.3%.

SAD 49 Superintendent Roberta Hersom said Thursday she believed the actual vaccination rate was greater than reported because not all staff members in the district responded to the survey. She said the survey was only sent out Sept. 3, and the deadline for reporting was Sept. 10.

“The short of it is we did not have 100% response from our staff,” Hersom said.

She said the district offered several vaccination clinics last year, and will likely offer more this year for staff members and eligible students. Hersom added the district hopes to have opportunity to provide the state with updated data in the future.

 

In Regional School Unit 2, Superintendent Tonya Arnold had a similar reaction as Hersom. Hallowell-based RSU 2 now has a central operations staff vaccination rate of 46.2%, one of the lowest in the Augusta area. By comparison, Augusta Public Schools has a central operations vaccination rate of 77.3%.

Arnold said administrators will review the data with school nurses to make sure it is accurate and see if there are factors or issues the district can address. Typically, she said, school nurses are extremely busy this time of year.

“Our nurses are navigating an extremely high amount of work,” Arnold said, “so we will need time in between this report and the one next month to determine what adjustments or responses we may be able to make.”

She said the district will look into having another vaccination clinic after having one in Monmouth at the end of the 2020-21 school year.

Regional School Unit 3 released additional information to address the district’s lower vaccine rates. Superintendent Charles Brown sent out a letter sharing the district’s position on the numbers.

“As a district, we respect the right that employees have to choose to participate in the survey,” Brown wrote in the letter. “We need to understand that the data won’t be 100% accurate due to staff’s right to choose. In addition, staff have the right to choose to be vaccinated or not.”

The letter reported that out of 300 staff members in the district, about 197 — or 66% — responded to the survey. Of those who responded, 95% were fully vaccinated.

While the district also offered the vaccine rate among respondents at each school, it is difficult to compare those numbers with those from the state, because the number of respondents varies from school to school.

For example, the district said that of those who responded from Mount View Elementary School, 93% were vaccinated. But the number of staff members who responded to the survey and are included in that 93% was not included. The state numbers show the overall vaccination rate is significantly lower, at 12.2%, but that could be missing staff members who are vaccinated but did not respond.

All of that is to say the numbers can be helpful in some cases and may be useful to track new vaccinations among school staff members, but they do not provide a full picture for districts and the state, or students and their families.

In some districts with low central operating staff averages, individual schools have vaccination rates that are much higher. For example, RSU 2 has a low staff average, but Hall-Dale Elementary School has a vaccination average of 90%. At the same time, Marcia Buker Elementary School and Richmond Middle High School have vaccination rates of 52.4% and 43.8%, respectively, which decrease the average.

Also in the Augusta area, Maine School Administrative District 11 has a central operations staff vaccination rate of 70.9%, Regional School Unit 38 has a vaccination rate of 69.8% and Augusta is at 77.3%.

The overall central operations staff vaccination rate is not available for Regional School Unit 12, although its individual schools have a collective average of 73.9%.

In some cases, the deadline caused issues with reporting any information.

If someone attempts to look up the information for Winslow Public Schools, it appears the district “suppressed or did not submit” the survey. But Superintendent Peter Thiboutot said the district sent out the survey late because the district was under the impression the deadline was Monday, not Friday.

He said he had the results of the survey, which showed Winslow Elementary School at 79%, Winslow Junior High School at 93%, Winslow Senior High School at 85% and the central operations staff at 72%.

Thiboutot said the district will carefully watch next month’s deadline to ensure the information is submitted on time.

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