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LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Justice

Vaccine Delays And High Case Rates Diminish Hopes For School Reopenings

Edie Evans, a fifth-grader at San Diego Unified, working on her assignment wh...

Photo by Julia Dixon Evans

Above: Edie Evans, a fifth-grader at San Diego Unified, working on her assignment while attending distance learning classes online during the COVID-19 pandemic in this file photo, Sept. 16, 2020.

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District and union officials in San Diego County say widespread in-person learning is unlikely even if teachers get vaccinated.

Aired: January 25, 2021 | Transcript

With the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine delayed and case rates still high, San Diego County educators are skeptical that students will be able to return to campuses before the end of the school year.

School nurses and speech therapists across the county have already started receiving their vaccines, but it remains unclear when teachers will begin to get their shots. But, even if teachers do get vaccinated in the coming months, there is no guarantee of a return to widespread in-person learning.

Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

Curious how the vaccine rollout is going in San Diego County? KPBS is tracking the progress.

“According to our agreement with the district, we have to be in the red tier for 14 consecutive days,” said Susan Skala, president of the teachers union at Chula Vista Elementary School District. “I’m not really confident that’s going to happen soon.”

ZIP codes in Chula Vista still have some of the highest case rates in the county, which do not bode well for reopening plans.

“Our reopening plan is not tied to vaccination, our reopening plan is tied to the county moving from the purple to the red tier,” said Anthony Millican, the communication director for the district.

Millican said the district is in active communication with the county to see how district staff can contribute to vaccine distribution.

Reported by Joe Hong

RELATED: COVID-19 Surge, Staff Shortages Prompt Poway Unified To Delay Reopening

Teachers currently remain in Tier 1B, behind health professionals and people 75 years or older.

While Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner urged county and state officials to turn schools into vaccination sites focused on educators, no such calls have been made in San Diego County. There are currently no plans to turn San Diego County schools into vaccination centers.

Julie Walker, the president of the teachers union at Sweetwater Union High School District, said school nurses just need to show school ID to receive their vaccine. She expects the protocol to be the same for teachers. She also said most of the teachers in the district would feel safe returning to campus once they’re vaccinated.

“I would say a good proportion of the teachers said if you give me the vaccine, I’ll go back,” she said.

RELATED: San Diego Unified School District Resumes COVID-19 Testing Program With Plans To Expand

At Poway Unified, teachers union president Kelly Logan said she’s urging county officials to place certain educators in Tier 1A, along with healthcare workers and some first responders.

“Special education teachers and instructional assistants should be vaccinated now in tier 1A,” she said. “They are often face-to-face with their students, in close contact, and some of their students are not able to wear masks due to medical exemptions.”

At San Diego Unified, district officials emphasized the need for regular testing and lower case rates in the community in addition to vaccinated teachers.

Chula Vista Elementary’s Skala said she’s skeptical the district will reopen schools before the end of the school year.

“I would love to say yes, but I don’t think so,” Skala said. “That makes me sad to think that kids aren’t gonna be able to come back.”

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Photo of Joe Hong

Joe Hong
Education Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an education reporter, I'm always looking for stories about learning. My favorite education stories put a student's face on bigger policy issues. I regularly sift through enrollment data, test scores and school budgets, but telling student-centered stories is my top priority.

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