A growing chorus of voices is calling for Georgia to move educators up the list of people to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
Congresswoman Carolyn Bourdeaux chimed in Wednesday with a letter to President Joe Biden, urging him to prioritize the vaccination of teachers and school staff and to develop federal guidelines for testing, contact tracing, masks and more.
“In the 7th district, the COVID-19 safety standards as well as their enforcement varies significantly by school district — and even from school to school within a district,” wrote Bourdeaux, whose district includes portions of Gwinnett and Forsyth counties. “As a result, we have heard from many teachers and support staff who are afraid because they have been asked to put their health and lives on the line, and risk the health and lives of their families, to keep their jobs.”
Health care workers, first responders, people 65 and older and their caregivers are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in Georgia today. Teachers are part of the next group set to become eligible, but limited vaccine supplies means even people now eligible can have difficulty getting the shot.
Teachers’ worries about classroom safety have been amplified in recent months by the deaths of several Georgia educators. At the same time, some parents are begging administrators to keep the doors open so their children do not fall behind. A surge in cases following the holiday break has caused some districts to temporarily move online, creating problems for families across the state, especially those with working parents or with children who have special needs.
The only way to make sure teachers are safe and schools can stay open is to vaccinate educators, wrote a group of superintendents from 11 metro Atlanta school districts in another Wednesday letter to Gov. Brian Kemp.
“The longer we delay in vaccinating our teachers and school staff, the more we risk having to close our doors once again,” the letter says. “The educators in our districts have given tirelessly in time, effort and dedication, especially during the pandemic; we ask you to recognize their value and importance to our communities and our state. Prioritize their role in children’s lives and reinforce the importance of our schools by doing what is needed to keep them safe and keep our schools open: allow teachers to be vaccinated now.”
On Tuesday, more than a dozen school board members from districts across metro Atlanta sent Kemp a similar letter, calling on the state to prioritize vaccines for school staff, provide masks for them to wear and collect and review anonymous COVID-19-related feedback from school employees.
In a Tuesday press conference the governor urged patience, saying he shares the concerns of teachers and people with developmental disabilities who have asked for a higher spot on the list, but there are simply not enough doses to go around at the moment.
Kemp participated in a conference call with the superintendents who signed onto the letter Wednesday, but his office declined to share information about the call.
“He stands by his comments at the press conference yesterday,” said Press Secretary Mallory Blount.