The Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) board chair is calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to make teachers and other school workers a priority in the next phase of COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
Thus far, Florida has prioritized seniors, first responders and frontline health care workers in its efforts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines, with DeSantis leading a “seniors first” media blitz where he highlights how many vaccines have been administered to the state’s seniors.
At one point DeSantis said one million Floridians had been vaccinated but later walked back that claim, according to Here & Now, with the actual number being closer to 800,000 people.
With the virus spreading throughout the state and city, including among children, many are wondering when they’ll be able to get their hands on a vaccine.
One vulnerable group that is not yet able to get vaccinated, unless they’re 65 or older, is teachers and other school workers, who are slowly being exposed to more and more potential vectors as students who were learning remotely start coming back to school.
In a letter sent this week, DCPS Board Chair Elizabeth Andersen called on the governor to include K-12 educators and school-related personnel as a priority in the next phase of vaccine distribution.
“We recognize the many reasons that brick-and-mortar education best serves children and the community at large,” Andersen wrote. “We also find ourselves challenged to ensure the health and wellbeing of students and staff as the population in our buildings increases while community spread of the virus rises to new highs. Just this month, we have tragically lost two invaluable educators and a student.”
Arlington Elementary School teacher Deborah Menendez-Holloway died of COVID-19 on Jan. 11 at the age of 51, as was reported by WJCT News partner The Florida Times-Union. Deaurra Nealy, an 8-year-old student at Twin Lakes Academy Elementary, died from Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C) — a disease in children that usually follows an infection or exposure to the coronavirus — on Jan. 16 and Neptune Beach Elementary paraprofessional Jeanne Martin died from complications due to COVID-19 on Jan. 18, according to WJCT News partner News4Jax.
During a news conference in Jacksonville on Monday, DeSantis said he did not plan to expand priority beyond the state’s current “seniors first” focus until another significant influx of vaccines arrives in Florida.
“I did not follow CDC [guidance] when we put seniors first. CDC recommended to do workers ahead of elderly. The mortality statistics did not bear that out and I felt you needed to get the vaccine to the folks who were at the greatest risk of severe COVID outcomes. And so that's what we're going to do. As we get beyond that, I think people that are in the workforce are going to be top priorities,” the governor said.
“This is one of those things that nobody has ever done before, so I certainly empathize with the challenge that the governor has on his hands with trying to decide who should go first. Prioritizing the riskiest, most vulnerable individuals is absolutely important,” Andersen said in response to the governor’s statements on Monday.
But, she said, “our teachers deserve to be prioritized and they deserve to be given the respect and acknowledgement that they are putting themselves in a high risk environment to provide this critical need to our community and to children.”