South Bay education leaders: Teachers need vaccines faster
Nearly 20 education leaders across nine school districts are telling Mayor Sam Liccardo to stop politicizing reopening schools. Photo courtesy of Barbara O’Loughlin.

    Santa Clara County education leaders are advocating for teachers to get vaccinated before they step foot inside a classroom — but not all teachers should get first dibs.

    A group of county educators Thursday said that vaccine priority should be given to teachers who are already working with students in person, followed by employees of schools that held off on reopening until all of their staff can be vaccinated.

    As new strains of COVID-19 emerge, the education leaders added, it’s critical to focus on Black and minority communities.

    “Now is the time to prioritize vaccination to our front line education workers and most vulnerable populations,” said Santa Clara County Board of Education Trustee Peter Ortiz. “It is imperative that communities of color come out and get inoculated to the virus.”

    Santa Clara County this week announced the opening of a clinic at the county fairgrounds focused specifically on vaccinating teachers. Up to 500 teachers will be able to receive their shots there each day, according to the county.

    There are about 15,000 educators working in the South Bay. With the announcement of the educator-focused clinic, county health officials said they would first prioritize reaching educators in districts that have been most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    All Santa Clara County educators became eligible for vaccines on Feb. 28, but school trustees and representatives still urged caution and warned of continuing inequities in vaccine access.

    “In our community here, in San Jose and Santa Clara County, it’s clear that vaccines aren’t getting to our Black and brown communities,” said Nick Cortez, vice president of the Campbell High School Teachers Association. “For whatever reason, they’re not getting them, and then we have the governor who comes to Palo Alto, one of the whitest and richest cities in our county, to talk about reopening schools.”

    Gov. Gavin Newsom spoke in Palo Alto earlier this week to support SB/AB 86, which seeks to provide financial aid to help schools open faster.

    Political football

    Nearly 20 school trustees last week signed an open letter to Mayor Sam Liccardo slamming his push to reopen schools. The trustees said that Liccardo, despite his urgency to reopen schools, did not provide any concrete solutions to do so safely. Some said he should have been more vocal about getting enough vaccines to teachers, and faster.

    “Any teacher that’s going to go into the classroom should be vaccinated,” Cortez said. “Just like any front-line worker, you’re in a confined space.”

    Meanwhile, San Jose Unified School District plans to reopen its doors to students on April 21, shortly after the district’s spring break. Patrick Bernhardt, president of the San Jose Teacher’s Association, said he’s confident that the district’s teachers will be vaccinated in time for that to happen.

    “When they first announced teachers moving to vaccine eligibility, it looked like it was going to take several weeks, maybe even months to get through that list,” Bernhardt said. “I think every day that goes by that it is clearer and clearer that they’re going to move more quickly than anticipated.”

    More than 60% of teachers and staff in the San Jose district use Kaiser Permanente as their primary care provider, Bernhardt said. Kaiser recently opened its vaccine program to essential workers, including teachers, after restricting it to elderly county residents for weeks. That move has helped get the majority of the district’s teachers signed up for appointments already, Bernhardt said.

    Still, a quarter of educators at San Jose Unified initially experienced trouble making an appointment, according to Bernhardt, and that’s where the fairgrounds clinic comes in.

    “There are districts that are planning to roll out sooner rather than later, and inherently makes sense that they would get priority,” Bernhardt said. “It makes perfect sense that they also get priority ahead of the school districts, for whatever reason, have said we’re not ready to move forward yet.”

    San Jose Unified announced Thursday it had secured vaccine appointments for its 4,000 education workers. The reopening date on April 21 ensures all workers have received their first and second doses.

    “Reaching this milestone in such a short amount of time is evidence of what is possible when state and local agencies work together towards a common goal,” said San Jose Unified Superintendent Nancy Albarrán.

    Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

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