ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Some teachers in Anchorage have asked the school district to delay a return to in-person instruction until they are eligible for the coronavirus vaccine.
While some educators and school staff are ready to return to classrooms with or without a vaccine, others said they are being forced to choose between employment or staying safe.
State health officials said frontline, essential workers likely will not begin receiving vaccines until late February.
The Anchorage School District plans to reopen schools Jan. 19 for elementary students in pre-K through second grade and high-needs, special education students through the sixth grade.
The Anchorage School Board last month directed Superintendent Deena Bishop not to delay reopening plans, which were postponed three times previously during the pandemic.
The district has a robust virus mitigation plan and must prioritize its mission to educate children, Bishop said Wednesday.
Jennifer Patronas, the district’s health care services director, said the first round of vaccinations beginning this week would include nurses who have not been vaccinated, some special education employees and staff and community members over 65.
The state’s tiered plan for vaccinating essential workers places teachers 50 years and older in tier 2, teachers under 50 with two or more high-risk health conditions in tier 3 and all other educators in tier 4.
Anchorage Education Association President Corey Aist called on the district to align its schedule with state vaccine distribution or allow teachers, staff and students to return to classrooms on a voluntary basis.
The district should wait for more information about vaccine availability before a widespread return to classrooms, while teachers can volunteer to return if they wish, Aist said.
“It would be a shame, it would be a travesty, to go back to a face-to-face learning mode, (for example) two weeks before educators are able to get vaccinated, and that ends up putting educators at risk, potentially actually contracting COVID-19,” Aist said. “It just seems like we’re so close.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.