Wake County Schools

Teachers: Vaccinate us first before reopening schools

Posted February 3, 2021 7:47 p.m. EST

— Some Wake County teachers are leery about returning to in-person classes in two weeks, saying they're concerned about their health and safety.

After hearing overwhelming support from parents, the Wake County Board of Education voted Tuesday to resume in-person instruction. Elementary school students will be in class five days a week, while middle school and high school students will be split into groups that rotate through one week in class and two weeks of online learning.

"I was really surprised Wake County had us go in before we were vaccinated, but I also understand the challenges they are facing," said Jean Jaros, a fifth-grade teacher at Davis Drive Elementary School.

Jaros said she frequently catches colds from her students – "I just kind of worry about the normal kid germs in a classroom," she said – and doesn't want to have to worry about contracting COVID-19 as well.

"We all want to be vaccinated ... before we are around the students," she said. "We're going to have to do what the state tells us to do."

North Carolina lists teachers as "essential" workers, a category that also includes grocery store workers, mail carriers and bus drivers, among others. They all are in Group 3 of the state's vaccination priority list.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that teachers get vaccinated after health care workers. But North Carolina also has people age 65 and up in lines for vaccinations before teachers.

Twenty-five states have already started vaccinating teachers, while North Carolina and 22 others haven't. Rhode Island and Vermont vaccinate according to age and health risk, regardless of job function.

"If teachers are going back into the classroom, it’s essential that they are vaccinated," said Megan Bryant, part of an organization in Winston-Salem lobbying to move teachers up on the vaccination priority list.

"Move them back up to priority status on the list, get them vaccinated and then get them in the classroom – in that order," Bryant said. "If we need to wait an extra month to open schools or an extra two months, so be it."

Sick teachers won't be able to be in front of their classes anyway, she said.

Limited vaccine supply has slowed the state's efforts to finish vaccinating senior citizens and start with teachers and others.

"I worry about Wake County when I see there's over 83,000 on waiting list," Jaros said. "How many weeks and months is it going to take before you get to Group 3 that I'm part of?"

Wake County school board Chairman Keith Sutton said he and other local officials are advocating to make teachers a higher priority for vaccinations as the county also pushes for more vaccine doses from the state.

Bryant said her group has started a petition to urge state officials to reshuffle the priority list yet again so teachers can get their shots sooner.

"We’re working really hard to educate the community about the fact that the CDC considers our teachers essential workers and they should be vaccinated now," she said. "This problem is solved just by making teachers a priority."

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