Chicago Public Schools teachers and staff won’t be vaccinated against the coronavirus before buildings are due to reopen for in-person classes, but eventually school nurses will help administer the inoculations.
Teachers, along with other groups considered front-line essential workers, are slated to be in the second phase of vaccination, after the first-priority rollout for health care employees and long-term care facility residents and workers that began this month.
Chicago’s public health commissioner, Dr. Allison Arwady, said Wednesday that teacher vaccinations could potentially begin in March or late February at the earliest. That’s after the scheduled resumption of in-person classes in CPS, which is Jan. 11 for prekindergarten and some special education students and Feb. 1 for most kindergarten through eighth graders, unless they opt for continued remote learning. The first group of teachers is expected to report to schools Monday.
But Arwady, when asked during an online question-and-answer session why CPS planned to bring staff and students back before staff members are vaccinated, said the decision “doesn’t have anything to do with vaccination.”
She continued: “It has to do with the fact that we have seen, not just here in Chicago but around the country and around the world, that … we don’t see schools driving community spread. We don’t see them as significant sources of infection.”
Arwady cited data from the Archdiocese of Chicago, which operates about 200 schools in Cook and Lake counties that have been mostly open for in-person classes since last fall. That data showed students in school had half the infection rate of those out of school, and teachers had been infected at rates similar to “adults in the community,” Arwady said.
In response, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates questioned in a tweet why CPS isn’t waiting to resume in-person classes until after spring break if vaccines might be available by March.
CTU has fought CPS reopening plans because of skepticism in the district’s ability to keep staff and students safe.
Thad Goodchild, CTU’s deputy general counsel, told the Tribune on Wednesday that, with vaccinations for educators being “so close on the horizon” and with officials forecasting a post-holiday spike in infections, “why in the world take the risk of more people getting exposed, getting sick and dying from COVID to avoid another six weeks of remote learning? It doesn’t make any sense.”
He questioned the comparison with Catholic schools, noting the archdiocese school system is a fraction of the size of CPS and its demographics are very different.
The union has also taken issue with the city’s shifting metrics for determining when it’s safe to open schools, and CTU spokeswoman Chris Geovanis said city officials are “just willfully ignoring newer research, which increasingly shows that schools are a greater source of risk when communities are contending with higher background rates of infection/transmission.”
Goodchild reiterated that “all options are on the table” for union members to address their safety concerns.
“The law provides employees the right to decline unsafe work assignments,” he said. “We expect a lot of members will invoke that right.”
In her comments, Arwady noted that the vaccines require two shots several weeks apart so that, if educator vaccinations begin in March, it will be close to the end of the school year before such a distribution would be complete, and CPS will have many other safeguards in place already.
“There is no world in which I would be supportive of CPS coming back if I did not think that CPS had done all the things that were necessary and more to have a safe environment for staff and for children, and I’m really confident in the plans,” she said.
When the vaccine does become available to teachers, Arwady said, schools that have nurses will be trained to administer the shots to the staff and other schools will be provided a “vaccinating partner.”
A nurse in every school was one provision won by the union in its two-week strike in 2019, though it was expected to take a few years to reach that level.
Original article: www.chicagotribune.com