Georgia teachers, school employees eagerly await COVID-19 vaccines

Teachers and school staff pushing to be next people to be vaccinated for COVID-19

ATLANTA — As Georgia continues to roll out the first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, many teachers and school employees are preparing to get vaccinated ahead of the general population.

Right now, it’s still unclear when teachers and school employees will get the chance to get vaccinated, but according to the state’s latest plan, educational faculty and staff would be eligible to receive it during Phase 1-B, which will take place after frontline healthcare workers and employee and residents of long-term care facilities and nursing homes receive their doses. State health officials have already said that although there are no plans for a mandate, they’re doing their best to educate and encourage the public to get it when it becomes available.

The president of Georgia Association of Educators told WSB-TV Friday that they’re encouraging educators and staff members to get the vaccine at a time when many teachers are expressing their distrust with the leaders of the districts that employ them.

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“Educators across the state are distrustful of the numbers that are being published by their school districts,” said Lisa Morgan, who represents 25,000 educators and staff members across Georgia. “They do not believe the contact tracing is happening like it should, and they’re very concerned that the reported number of cases do not reflect what’s actually happening in the building.”

Morgan says without an approved vaccine for Children under 16, many teachers have told her that even if they get vaccinated, they still won’t feel safe teaching face-to-face until students get it too.

“We have educators who have retired rather than go back into a face-to-face setting,” she said. “Educators who can retire are making that decision to retire rather than risk their health. That means we’re losing some of the most experienced educators in our state.”

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Morgan added that she’s extremely concerned by the number of children testing positive throughout the state. On Friday, state health officials confirmed that since November 30, there have been 10,120 new positive cases involving children 0- 17 years old. Although, some scientists say early research shows that school aged children are not responsible for the surges, Morgan says the state should require all school districts to operate under the same guidelines.

“Everybody needs to be wearing a mask from the time they get on the bus in the morning until the school day is finished and they’re back at home with family, " she added.

WSB-TV reached out to several school districts across Metro Atlanta, including Marietta City Schools, where Superintendent Grant Rivera and his staff have taken extra precautionary measures to keep the spread of COVID in their schools at a minimum.

“Since September, we did a gradual return to school where offered our students in person learning, as well as, full time virtual learning, “he said. “Right now, K-8 , we are 65 %-70% in person.  At high school, we’re closer to 45%-50% in person.”

While Marietta City Schools has issued a mask mandate, Rivera says there are no plans for a vaccine mandate.

“I’m not at a place where we are going to require educators to get a vaccine,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s my place, as superintendent, to tell someone what to do with their bodies. Our approach is really just to make sure that our educators know, our staff all 1,300 of them, know when the vaccine is available to them and where they can get it.”

Rivera says Marietta City Schools is working to find a partnership with local public health and possibly offering the vaccine to teachers and staff on campus in order to make it more accessible.

Here is how some of the other school districts in Metro Atlanta are addressing the vaccine when it comes to their employees:

Atlanta Public Schools:

“The safety and well-being of our students and staff is paramount to Atlanta Public Schools. To that end, as the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, we will follow the directives and procedures the state and county health departments establish for essential workers and for those individuals working in schools. "

Clayton County Public Schools:

“The COVID 19 vaccine is not required. it is an individual decision. The district supports and encourage staff and the community to consider the vaccine. The district will continue to use statistical data related to COVID-19 as supplied by state and local health officials, national and state mandates as issued by governmental officials and any guidance as shared by the CDC to determine decisions. We will also continue to conduct surveys to gauge stakeholder opinion. We are working with the Clayton County Health District to determine how the vaccine will be administered and the dosage available.”

Fulton County Schools

“We will continue to monitor news or information from health professionals on the status of approval of a vaccine for staff and students. If the state requires a vaccine, we will follow guidance from public health and develop processes to accommodate the mandate”

Cobb County Schools:

“As we have with all COVID-19 decisions, our partnership with local and state public health officials continues to drive our decisions. To date, specifics related to vaccinations have not been made available to school districts and we will wait to make informed decisions instead of speculating.”