Newsom outlines plan to vaccinate 75,000 teachers a week starting in March in push to reopen schools

California
Assistant Principal Janette Van Gelderen, left, welcomes students at Newhall Elementary School in Santa Clarita on Feb. 25, 2021. Elementary school students returned to school this week in the Newhall School District. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Assistant Principal Janette Van Gelderen, left, welcomes students at Newhall Elementary School in Santa Clarita on Feb. 25, 2021. Elementary school students returned to school this week in the Newhall School District. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

California released a new plan Thursday outlining how the state will allocate vaccines to education workers as Gov. Gavin Newsom continues to push to reopen more schools to in-person instruction.

The Democratic governor announced last week that at least 10% of the state’s vaccines would go to education workers starting in March, which translates to roughly 75,000 dedicated doses a week.

On Thursday, his office released an overview showing how those vaccines would be distributed. Each week, the state will provide doses to county offices of education for distribution. Teachers and other education workers will get single-use codes to make expedited appointments online.

The state will also host targeted drives for education staff at two mass vaccination sites in Oakland and Los Angeles that are run in partnership with the federal government.

“The education professionals who nurture and support our children deserve to be and have been prioritized for vaccines, and I am proud to accelerate those efforts in all 58 counties,” Newsom said in a news release.

If 75,000 vaccine doses do come through each week, it could be a matter of weeks for California’s 320,000 K-12 public school teachers to be inoculated.

Much of the supply in California remains dedicated for seniors 65 and older, although more counties are opening up appointments for educators, food and farm workers and other essential employees. The state had administered more than 8 million doses as of Thursday.

The governor’s office said it will allocate doses to counties based on the number of school employees there and also with an eye toward ensuring that students most affected by the pandemic — homeless and foster youth, low-income students and English learners — get back into the classroom.

Newsom has come under increasing political pressure to get California’s public schools back open. The majority of the state’s 6 million K-12 public school students have not been inside a classroom since March 2020 due to the pandemic as other states have moved more swiftly to reopen.

For weeks, the governor has been negotiating with lawmakers on a deal to reopen schools and salvage what’s left of this academic year. He said earlier this week that he was confident of striking a deal soon “to get our kids safely back in schools very, very shortly.”

California’s powerful teachers unions have repeatedly said that getting teachers vaccinated is key to getting classrooms reopened. Union officials have balked at proposals to reopen from Newsom and state lawmakers, which did not make vaccinations a condition for resuming in-person classes.

Jeff Freitas, president of the California Federation of Teachers, said the plan helps move teachers closer to returning to classrooms but it’s still too soon to forecast a date for full reopening. CFT is recommending that school staff wait until they receive the second dose of vaccine before they return to in-person instruction.

“It’s hard to set a date. We need to know when it’s safe,” Freitas said. But “this moves us further along. The promise of 10% to get our educators and our school workers vaccinated creates the safest environment that we know of.”

At least 35 of the state’s 58 counties are actively vaccinating education workers, the governor’s office said. That includes San Francisco, which began Wednesday and made national headlines for suing its own school district to jump-start reopening plans.

On Wednesday, San Diego County officials announced that COVID-19 vaccinations will open Saturday for people in emergency services, child care and education, and food and agriculture. Santa Clara County in Silicon Valley will begin such vaccinations Sunday.

Newsom’s prioritization plan also includes custodians, administrators, food and bus workers and other staff who are working at schools or expect to be at school within the next three weeks.

On a national level, President Joe Biden has set a target of reopening the majority of elementary schools by the end of his first 100 days in office. Biden says the reopening goal applies to K-8 schools and not to high schools or colleges, due to a higher risk of contagion among older students.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has echoed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidelines, which say that vaccination is not a prerequisite for reopening safely if masks, social distancing and proper safety measures are in place.

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