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Education

Vaccinated Teachers Won’t Mean Automatic School Reopenings In San Diego County

A teacher guides students through a lesson at Lafayette Elementary School in Clairemont Mesa on Oct. 13, 2020.
Nicholas McVicker
A teacher guides students through a lesson at Lafayette Elementary School in Clairemont Mesa on Oct. 13, 2020.

Many teachers are hoping to receive the COVD-19 vaccine as soon as possible to start undoing the damage the pandemic has done to students. But vaccinated teachers won’t necessarily mean mass school reopenings.

Teachers’ union leaders across the state agree with the current proposal from the governor’s office of putting educators behind frontline health care workers and nursing home residents in the line to receive the vaccine.

Vaccinated Teachers Won’t Mean Automatic School Reopenings In San Diego County
Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

Even with a vaccine, however, the task of school reopenings remains complicated.

“We want schools to continue to reopen in a way that slows the spread,” said Kisha Borden, president of the teachers union at San Diego Unified School District.

“We would ask again, as we’ve been asking for a long time, that families continue to wear their masks and help the community spread slow down,” she said.

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The California Teachers Association agreed with the state’s proposed priorities for vaccinations.

“If teachers get vaccinated in the late winter or early spring, that could conceivably allow for more general reopening in the late spring,” said Ed Sibby, a communications consultant for CTA. “That’s the most hopeful we can be right now.”

But it remains unclear when students will start to be vaccinated. Until they are teachers say there’s still the risk of spread on campuses.

“Children have yet to be included, so it could be some time,” said Richard Barrera, vice president of San Diego Unified’s school board. “It’ll certainly be later in the year before we have vaccines that are approved to be given to our students.”

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And while some teachers are eager to get the vaccine, others might choose not to be vaccinated.

“There will be some members that cannot get vaccinated,” said Julie Walker, president of the teachers union at Sweetwater Union High School District.

“Some teachers have allergies or very strong religious beliefs,” she said. “That’s where we really need to come up with alternatives for those members.”

According to federal and state guidelines, health care workers are not currently required to receive the vaccine. Once teachers know when they can expect to be vaccinated, Walker and Borden say they’ll negotiate with their districts to ensure all teachers can continue working whether or not they receive the vaccine.

“We need to figure out how to handle those who won’t be vaccinated,” Walker said. “We need to give them options so they don’t lose their livelihood.