Vaccine Delays And High Case Rates Diminish Hopes For School Reopenings
Speaker 1: 00:00 Even with efforts to get teachers in higher priority groups for the COVID vaccine schools may not be reopening any time soon and maybe not even the school year KPBS education reporter, Joe Hong joins us now to talk about what needs to happen to get students back in the classroom. Joe, welcome. Hey Jay, thanks for having me. So even if teachers are able to get vaccinated in the coming months, there's still no guarantee that widespread in-person learning will resume. Why is that? Speaker 2: 00:28 It's mostly because of the way that the teachers unions and the school districts have reached an agreement of when they'll reopen and reopening dates are tied to the case rates in the community rather than vaccinations. So, um, even if teachers are vaccinated, there is a huge concern that, you know, case rates will, will continue to stay up because students and other members of the community will not get their vaccine until, until after teachers get theirs. Speaker 1: 01:02 And there are some teachers who are still required to work in person with students. Tell me about the push to get them in tier one, a along with healthcare workers and some first responders, Speaker 2: 01:13 The vast majority of teachers and educators are in a tier one B. And right now into your one 80, you have, uh, folks like school nurses and speech language pathologists, but there is a push right now to get special education teachers and school psychologists, uh, who are currently in one B up to one a, because they're currently doing a face-to-face sort of work with students, um, especially special education teachers. A lot of them are working, you know, in small groups with students who, because of their disabilities, can't wear a face covering or, um, or a mask. So, uh, yeah, districts like Poway and Chula Vista have told me that they are pushing to get those folks up into tier one eight. Speaker 1: 01:56 And can you talk about what school districts are in areas seeing the highest number of COVID cases and what their experience? Speaker 2: 02:04 Yeah, I mean, it continues to be just, uh, heartbreaking in, in areas in the South Bay, um, like, uh, Sweetwater union, high school district, Chula Vista elementary school district. Um, you know, I was talking to a teacher's union president, uh, from, from Sweetwater and she was telling me that, you know, everyone knows someone at this point who has COVID or has died from COVID. So the idea that vaccinating teachers will lead to sort of mass school reopenings is just kind of out of the question for them, Speaker 1: 02:40 You know, in your report, you mentioned LA unified school district is urging officials to turn schools into vaccination sites to focus on vaccinating teachers. Are there any plans to do that here in San Diego? Speaker 2: 02:52 No. There, there aren't. And none of the school district officials here are sort of, you know, making those calls or, um, urging the County to sort of coordinate with them. I've been told that there has been some communication, but it's still very preliminary. Um, and so the idea is that, you know, turning school gyms or something into vaccination sites could really expedite the vaccination of, of teachers and, and eventually students as well. Speaker 1: 03:23 Would that plan in LA get students back into the classroom sooner? Speaker 2: 03:27 That's certainly the hope. So once teachers are vaccinated, if they could transition into vaccinating students, eventually that that would, that would definitely get schools reopened sooner. Speaker 1: 03:41 The school districts here are saying about what needs to happen before schools can reopen Speaker 2: 03:45 San Diego unified school district is, uh, focusing on three things before they're comfortable reopening. Um, the first thing is getting case rates down in the community. They don't want to reopen schools and have that contribute to a growing case rate. Uh, the second thing is mass regular testing, uh, on, on school campuses. So this would be like bi-weekly testing for all students and staff who are on campuses. And then the third thing really is vaccines. They really want to see all those pieces come together and they're not really seeing, uh, vaccinations as sort of, you know, the silver bullet to reopening schools. Speaker 1: 04:24 Well, do any local school districts feel optimistic about reopening the school year? Speaker 2: 04:29 You know, no one at this point wants to, wants to make any predictions right now, just because of the way things have gone back and forth so much in the past year, uh, when it comes to school reopening, um, it seems less and less likely that schools reopened this school year, but there are conversations about, um, summer school for all students this year, just to make up for the learning loss. And it seems more likely that more students will be able to return to campus safely in the summer months. Speaker 1: 05:04 I've been speaking with KPBS education reporter Joe Hong, Joe. Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.