Local Kansas teachers grateful for more vaccines coming their way, but some still worried

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Local school districts are weighing in on Gov. Laura Kelly’s Back to School Vaccination Plan to get all students back into the classroom.

Kansas expects to receive 115,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines per week, which is up from 45,000 doses per week in January. The governor is prioritizing the additional vaccines for educators, and that’s put the gas on school districts’ plans get back to full-time, in-person learning.

But some say just the vaccine isn’t the answer.

“More vaccines allow us to move faster and provide that additional layer of coverage for employees,” Shawnee Mission School District Chief of Student Services Christy Ziegler said.

By the end of this week, 43% of Shawnee Mission employees will have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Next week, 900 are going for the second dose.

“There’s joy,” Ziegler said. “I’ve had emails of saying, ‘Hallelujah, thank you.’ So I the sense that I have, our teachers are excited for the opportunity. “

But Linda Sieck, president of the Shawnee Mission teacher’s union, believes vaccinating educators alone won’t make it safe for everyone to return to school.

“I think there are a multitude of factors that we feel must be in place in order for all students to return to the classroom, in buildings,” she said.

Students will not be vaccinated, so solid safety plans must be implemented. The union’s position is that in buildings with 1,000-1,700 students, social distancing will be difficult.

“We need to make sure that we have safe places for kids to have lunch, safe passing periods from class to class,” Sick said.

SMSD has no set date for all students to return to in-person learning, but Olathe Public Schools will return middle and high schoolers to full-time, in-person learning in a week and a half. Teachers union leaders there have similar safety concerns.

“We know that there is no way that all staff, all educators will be fully vaccinated by March 1,” Olathe’s NEA chapter President Leigh Anne Rogers said.

In Wyandotte County, the health department has been prioritizing educators to get vaccinated for well over a month, so all KCK teachers and staff who want it have gotten their first vaccination and will have their second doses before all students come back full time April 5.

“I get a lot of emails, and people are just so relieved to have that extra layer of safety or comfort,” said Elizabeth Morris, KCK Public Schools health services coordinator.

The Missouri National Educators Association is demanding Gov. Mike Parson also prioritize educators, so students there can also safely get back to full-time, in-person learning.

But Missouri has no plans to move teachers higher on the list for COVID-19 vaccinations, instead focusing on getting shots to older people and those with serious illnesses, the state’s health director said Thursday.

“Those people who are more likely to get sick, and bluntly, to pass away if they get COVID, continue to be the governor’s focus and my focus and all of our focus,” Dr. Randall Williams said during Gov. Mike Parson’s weekly media briefing.

“So the answer is that’s what’s guiding us and will continue to guide us,” Williams said.

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