ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As schools remain open to in-person learning in Florida, educators believe they should be included among essential workers eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Pinellas County school board on Tuesday approved and submitted a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis asking that he reconsider moving school staff up on the priority list to get the vaccine now.
“We know our schools are open, we know the executive orders require that our schools remain open face-to-face or risk losing about a third of our funding,” said at-large school board member Laura Hine.
“In order to keep them open and keep them functioning well, then we must protect the well-being of all our employees.”
Additionally, more than 1,100 teachers in the county have signed a petition urging DeSantis to quickly vaccinate school staff, said Nancy Velardi, the president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers’ Association. The signatures were sent to Tallahassee on Monday.
“If the governor is insisting that we stay open and even increase the number of students in the buildings because we are essential to keeping the economy afloat – this is his argument – then clearly if we’re that essential we should be moved up in priority,” Velardi said.
Despite the CDC including teachers among frontline, essential workers in its vaccine recommendations released in December, DeSantis has disagreed while remaining adamant the state’s economy depends on schools staying open.
When asked by a reporter during a press conference in the Panhandle on Sunday, DeSantis said the focus on people 65 and older is “based on data.”
"Obviously, you're going to have a lot of folks to be in that next cadre, for sure, but, you know, by us putting seniors first, we're doing the right thing by our parents and grandparents," DeSantis said. "It's the morally right thing to do, but it's the medically right thing to do.”
Similar requests from the Florida Education Association and the school board in Hillsborough County have been turned away by the governor.
DeSantis has also argued it would be difficult to prioritize more people right now given the limited supply of vaccines. The school board acknowledges this in its letter and suggests, at the very least, that employees with direct contact with students be prioritized.
Since districts reopened to in-person learning, COVID-19 cases among teachers, students and staff at Florida schools have totaled into the thousands.
More than 90,000 children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the school year began, according to the Florida Education Association’s tally. The FEA says 26 school staff statewide have died of COVID-19 since schools reopened in August.
State health officials have reported nine children under the age of 17 in Florida have died since the start of the pandemic.
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