Seattle Public Schools Superintendent calls for higher vaccine prioritization for educators
Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau called on Gov. Jay Inslee — as well as key other state and county health leaders — to give higher COVID-19 vaccine prioritization to educators and school district personnel before they return to the classroom.
SPS is currently set to resume in-person instruction on March 1, 2021, for about 10,000 Pre-K, kindergarten, first grade, and specific Special Education grade bands. The plan was approved by the SPS Board of Directors in December 2020.
Due to the upcoming resumption of in-person teaching, Superintendent Juneau is “urging prioritization of vaccinations for the following personnel,” all of whom will be providing in-person instruction or services when students return to campus: preschool educators, kindergarten educators, first grade educators, special education educators, principals, assistant principals, safety and security personnel, nutrition services personnel, and custodial personnel.
“Prioritizing vaccinations for public educators and critical support staff will send a strong message of the state’s commitment to public education and care for our public educators in a time when so much is uncertain,” Juneau wrote. “This action will help build trust in our collective commitment to recovery.”
The superintendent is requesting that SPS personnel involved with in-person learning be included in the second broad distribution, Phase 1B-1. Currently, that tier prioritizes people 70 years and older and 50 years or older in multigenerational households. Teachers of grades K-12 and school staff above the age of 50 are listed in Phase 1B-2 as it stands now.
“It does not make sense to have an age limit of ‘over 50’ for educational professionals,” Juneau said in her letter. “Our top priority must be to keep our staff, students, and communities physically safe, as well as mentally and academically healthy.”
While educational professionals 50 years or older are included in the Washington State Department of Health’s Phase 1B-2, expected to start in February, those under 50 may have to wait until at least April as part of Phase 1B-4.
Juneau also offered SPS buildings to be used as sites where health care professionals could administer the vaccine to school staff and the larger community.
Across Washington state, school districts are in various stages of planning a return to in-person learning. Those decisions are made by the districts and not by the state. One month ago, Gov. Inslee issued new recommendations, advising a large portion of schools begin a phased return to in-person classes, starting with younger students. This was before the Healthy Washington reopening plan was announced.
Gov. Inslee has previously made it clear that he does have the ability to close schools for emergencies, but he does “not have the statutory authority to make them reopen.”
The prior guidelines from Inslee included the following series of benchmarks schools should aim for:
- Districts where COVID cases represent less than 50 residents per 100,000 people: In-person learning should be made available to all students.
- Districts where COVID cases represent between 50-350 residents per 100,000 people: Districts are encouraged to phase in in-person learning, starting with elementary and middle school students.
- Districts where COVID cases are greater than 350 per 100,000 people: Districts are encouraged to bring elementary students “and those with the highest needs” back into classrooms in small groups of 15 or fewer.
Find more information about Seattle Public Schools’ return to in-person learning plan here.