With Term 3 of the academic year scheduled to start next week, teachers across the District remain in a race to get the highly coveted but scarce coronavirus vaccine.
For early childhood educators, this endeavor has been even more of a struggle as the D.C. Department of Health [DOH] and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) haven’t included them in the vaccination schedule, despite their essential worker designation.
“The people who work in these early child care programs are credentialed teachers and they’re essential,” said Sia Barbara Kamara of the DC Early Learning Collaborative, an entity representing more than 100 education professionals, organizations and coalitions.
“They’ve been required to come back to work and [the District] has not been paying for the enrollment,” she added.
After learning about DOH and OSSE’s decision, Kamara and others joined forces with the Under 3 DC campaign to spread the word among more than 6,000 District-based child care workers and develop an advocacy plan to effect change within the mayor’s office and DOH.
Part of those efforts include a letter writing and social media campaign, along with a virtual forum hosted by D.C. Council member Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4).
“Early childhood educators are just like public and public charter school teachers,” Kamara told The Informer as she explained the hurdles early child care facilities have faced during the pandemic with a unique funding structure.
“Most parents aren’t sending their children back because of the fears [and] early childhood programs don’t get paid if they do distance or virtual learning,” she said.
A Vaccination Schedule Some Teachers Deem Inequitable
In their response to early child care education advocates, DOH Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) cited a dearth of vaccines as the rationale for the decision that has caught the ire of District early childhood educators.
This week, DCPS partnered with Children’s National Medical Center for the rollout of vaccines at Dunbar High School in Northwest. Charter school teachers have also been scheduled to receive guidance from OSSE for the vaccination program.
As recommended by public health officials, essential workers, healthcare professionals and elders are among the first groups to receive two doses of the coronavirus vaccine in 30-day intervals.
As of Tuesday, 60 percent of the slots for teacher vaccinations have been filled, DCPS central office personnel told The Informer. With the District, the 50 states and U.S. territories all getting a weekly allotment of vaccines, there have been concerns about whether teachers would be fully vaccinated by February 1.
Despite some teachers’ misgivings about not being fully inoculated before the start of Term 3, DCPS Chancellor Ferebee said other safeguards had been implemented in the reopening of schools.
“The vaccine was never considered a prerequisite for us to reopen school,” Ferebee said while explaining the rollout of teacher vaccinations to take place throughout the week and into the weekend.
“We have a layered approach for safety protocols that we consider the conditions for a safe environment for people to [hold classes]. We are excited to offer this additional layer [of vaccines].”
Other apprehensions about the vaccine according on one local teacher focus on what’s been described as the rush to manufacture a treatment.
“Even though there’s a vaccination schedule, you have teachers who are nervous about taking the vaccines, although some people said this is the same vaccine our outgoing president took,” said James Isreal, a teacher at Hart Middle School.
Though he opted out of in-person learning, Isreal said he has been selected to return to the campus in February to meet parent demands for teachers.
“As far as the schedule, the mayor and D.C. Public Schools should consider pushing it back until both doses are secured by those feeling comfortable [enough to take the vaccine],” said Isreal who also serves as the Washington Teachers’ Union vice president for middle schools.
As of Sunday, DOH has recorded more than 35,000 coronavirus cases, more than 200 of which transpired over the weekend. Even as plans for reopening continue to come into fruition, the city’s coronavirus death toll is approaching 900.
Despite his support for reopening schools, local middle school math teacher Michael Grier remained critical of DCPS’ timing, telling The Informer that it hasn’t been aligned with the vaccination schedule, nor has it taken into account teachers’ demand for vaccines.
He too has concerns about the brand of vaccine, opting to choose Moderna over Pfizer through his healthcare provider.
“It would be in the best interest [of teachers] to get both doses [of the vaccine] before going back into the building around children,” said Grier, who also serves as chair of the Ward 8 Education Council.
“This raises the question of when did DCPS really make the decision with vaccinations,’ Grier continued. “It seems like they waited a few weeks before wanting us to return. You’re not necessarily guaranteed to get it. That’s just registration. You have to wait until they call you.”