School districts to begin staff vaccinations ahead of in-person learning requirement deadline next week

Published: Feb. 8, 2021 at 10:17 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Most Iowa teachers won’t be fully vaccinated from COVID-19 before the state requires districts to offer 100% in-person learning, with the Feb. 15 deadline for that mandate approaching.

But schools are trying to get as many shots in arms as possible before that day arrives.

The Oelwein Community School District will have a half-day of school Friday to allow some teachers and school staff to get their vaccines that afternoon at a clinic at Upper Iowa University in Fayette.

“It’s going to be an emotional day for them to drive through that clinic and get that needle prick,” Josh Ehn, Oelwein’s superintendent, said.

While Ehn said some school employees have already been vaccinated because of other jobs they have that put them higher on the state’s vaccination priority list — an example he pointed to was a school employee serving as a firefighter — Friday will be the first time Oelwein school workers can get their vaccines through their jobs in the district.

Ehn said communication about the state’s vaccine rollout has been frustrating at times, but that school staff has been patient as they awaited their turn to get their shot.

“We’ve been asked to do extraordinary things this year, and I think that it’s been rewarding now that school employees are being put toward the top of the line to get vaccinated as they’ve been kind of been put in harm’s way, working with students and being asked to do things they maybe wouldn’t be normally asked to do this year,” Ehn said.

There will only be enough doses available Friday for 25% of Oelwein staff who want the vaccine to get their shot then, according to Ehn, who said that amounts to 45 people. The other 75% will get their first dose two weeks later, on Feb. 26.

Ehn said about 90% of Oelwein school employees have indicated they plan to get the vaccine, whether through the school district or through their physician.

“We think that getting a high participation rate like that will really help cocoon our student body in terms of safety and then also help mitigate the risk of spread here in our community,” Ehn said.

Schools in Linn County said they will also start vaccinations this week, in line with the county prioritizing first-responders before teachers. Superintendents from across the county met with representatives from Linn County Public Health because they were concerned with the slow rollout of vaccinations to school employees in their districts. Other districts in the state started their vaccinations last week.

“We are getting our employees vaccinated, but it’s a very slow, arduous process,” Mike Beranek, the president of the Iowa State Education Association, said.

While Beranek said it is “incredibly important” that school districts work to get their teachers and staff vaccinated or at least start the process ahead of the Feb. 15 deadline, he said those vaccinations are just one step needed to make classrooms safe with more students in the building.

“We really are hoping that districts continue to look at the positivity rate in their communities, that they have the specific protocols and procedures in place to mitigate the spread of the virus, that we continue to offer continuous learning opportunities if the virus spikes in that community, and that our employees are vaccinated,” Beranek said.

Beranek also hopes districts continue to maintain mask mandates in schools, even as the state’s requirement is no longer in effect. Ehn said the Oelwein Community School District has kept its mask requirement in place since August.

Editor’s Note: This article has been edited to clarify that Linn County did not make any changes to its vaccine rollout priorities because of the meeting with Superintendents.

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