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Local teachers question Missouri’s COVID vaccine plan

More than half of all states have started vaccinating K-12 teachers and staff but Missouri teachers still wait in line. Local teachers question if they will receive COVID-19 doses before the end of the school year.

Posted: Feb 18, 2021 2:52 PM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Missouri teachers wait in line for a COVID-19 vaccine shot while more than 25 other states have begun administering doses to K-12 teachers and staff.

According to the St. Joseph Region’s Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) President Denise Peters, her members are frustrated with how state officials have prioritized teachers and staff.

“Our staff, I mean, they’ve risked their lives this year for our kids, and to be told by the state of Missouri that we don’t get any priority to the vaccination is disheartening, she said.

Peters, an elementary school teacher in the St. Joseph School District, said her colleagues at school and in the association want to be vaccinated and have been disappointed watching teachers in other states move up the line.

“It’s extremely frustrating to see our colleagues in other states be fully vaccinated when Missouri teachers, paras, bus drivers, and other support staff haven’t even gotten our first vaccine and we don’t know when we will,” she said.

Members of the other association, St. Joseph - National Education Association, have also voiced frustration.

“We are on the front lines with our students and other adults every day and we would like to be vaccinated,” said J. Eric Simmons, president of St. Joseph-NEA and an SJSD high school teacher. “There clearly has been a breakdown in this process in terms of receiving vaccines and in terms of getting them out to our local health departments.”

Association leaders say local officials are not the problem

Both association presidents have said local health and district officials are not to blame. In fact, members of both associations praised the SJSD Administration for the work it’s done.

“Everything is in place. They have a partnership that normally distributes our flu vaccines and we have locations that we can do them and local health care professionals that are ready to do it,” said Beth Ann Reinert, an MSTA member, and SJSD 9th-grade teacher in the Virtual Academy.

Local teachers and staff say they want to be vaccinated when the time comes

It’s also not an issue of vaccine hesitancy for these teachers. More than 60 percent of teachers and staff in the St. Joseph School District said they would be interested in getting vaccinated in response to a district-wide survey, according to previous KQ2 reporting.

Reinert said she wants to get vaccinated for her family and for herself.

“At the Virtual Academy, we follow social distancing, masking, and all protocols but we still teach in a classroom with 6 or 7 other teachers,” she said. “I have Asthma and I also care for my dad who is over 65 years old and has COPD and Type 2 Diabetes. He spent a week inpatient at Mosaic when he got COVID, then I got COVID and my three kids, because I was a close contact, had to quarantine for 30 days.”

Lynnea Wooten, whose Vice President of St. Joseph- NEA and a band teacher in the district, said she’s also ready to be vaccinated.

“From what I know, from like everybody that I work with, we’re ready. Give us that email, we’ll show up. Here’s my arm let’s do it,” Wooten said as she jokingly patted her arm.

Missouri is still a tier away from vaccinating teachers

But Missouri teachers will have to wait. School staff and faculty fall under Phase 1B, tier 3 in the State’s vaccination plan. Currently, the state is working to vaccinate Phase 1A and Phase 1B, tiers 1 and 2.

Wooten said she understands state officials have a difficult job and that vaccine doses are scarce but more than 25 other states have managed to bump teachers up in line.

“I’m not necessarily mad at someone. I’m frustrated with the situation,” she said. “I do not envy anyone that came up with the rollout for this. The breakdown of who gets what, when but the bottom line is teachers need access to the vaccines so that our kids can stay healthy and we can stay in school which we’ve been hearing the whole school year is what everybody wants.”

Some teachers argue the situation is more pressing for Missouri educators

Reinert said compared to other states, more Missouri teachers need to be vaccinated because of the state's emphasis on in-person learning.

“Most Missouri schools offer some type of in-person instruction,” Reinert said. “There’s a lot of states that still don’t have any in-person education and they haven’t had any since March when everything went crazy.”

According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, about 98 percent of school districts across the state are offering some type of in-person or hybrid learning.

“In Missouri, our teachers are still showing up and it would be nice if the Governor and the state and the vaccine companies could show up for teachers," Reinert said.

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