Kate Brethauer, a special education teacher at Robert Louis Stevenson Intermediary School, receives her first COVID-19 vaccination along with many other local teachers at the St. Helena Foundation vaccination clinic at Napa Valley College in St. Helena on Jan. 21, 2021. (Photo by Brittany Hosea-Small/San Francisco Chronicle/Polaris, via EdSource)

The California Teachers Association has told Gov. Gavin Newsom that the union wants schools in counties with high COVID-19 infection rates to remain in distance learning for 100 days so that the state can develop a more aggressive plan to slow the spread of the virus and have all school staff vaccinated.

“We need a clear and coordinated state, county and local plan that puts the health and safety of our communities first and does not take shortcuts toward the path of opening schools in person,” stated union leaders in a letter to Newsom on Jan. 27. “To do otherwise will continue the ‘yo-yo’ effect we warned of last summer and this fall — opening schools, only to then close them because we failed to have the necessary layered protections and asymptomatic testing in place.”

To make that happen, the union is asking the governor to keep all schools in counties in the purple, or widespread, tier of the state’s tracking system in distance learning during the 100-day period. Counties in that tier have more than 7 cases per 100,000 residents or have more than 8% of test results positive over a 7-day period.

The union also is asking for enforcement of health orders and workplace regulations and increased COVID-19 testing.

The letter challenges the governor’s plan to begin reopening schools to some students next month. His “Safe Schools for All” incentive plan has also drawn criticism from school superintendents.

This is not the first time the union has called for enhanced safety precautions and vaccinations for school employees to reopen schools. 

But the letter does come as school districts across the state have been struggling to figure out how to vaccinate their staff with an unpredictable vaccine supply and lack of statewide coordination of vaccinations.

Although teachers and other school employees are included in the next phase (Phase 1B) of the state’s vaccine rollout they are not being vaccinated in many California counties, which are still vaccinating health care workers and nursing home residents in in Phase 1A.

Counties not on the same rollout page

When teachers and school employees get vaccinated depends on how the county health department decides to prioritize vaccines within Phase 1B, which also includes everyone 65 and older, agriculture and food workers and emergency service personnel. There is no guidance that puts teachers at the top of that group.

In the letter the union recommends that schools be considered for vaccination clinic sites, calling them familiar, convenient and trusted locations that can play an important role in vaccinating people in the community. Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner has also asked that schools in the district be designated as official community vaccination centers.

The governor’s plan would give school districts $450 to $750 per student if they offer in-person instruction to students in transitional kindergarten through second grade by Feb 15 and third through sixth grade by March 15. Districts that start a month later can get $100 less. Districts would have to have comprehensive health and safety plans in place, including COVID-19 testing. 

In the letter the union says it has concerns about the timeline for implementing the plan and the use of Proposition 98 dollars for school safety, but is committed to reopening schools.

President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief package is in line with the union’s requests to the governor and would be needed to fund all the necessary safety precautions required in order to return to school, said Claudia Briggs, union spokesperson.

Vaccinating teachers is also a key part of Biden’s plan to reopen schools.

The American Rescue Plan will provide the resources schools will need to protect students and teachers in order to reopen, including ventilation, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, during a virtual meeting hosted by national teachers unions on Jan. 28.

“So not only, when you have the public health measures of masking, better ventilation, better spacing, but if we can get them (school staff) vaccinated as quickly as possible, that would hopefully get to the goal that we all want,” Fauci said.

Story originally published by EdSource.