Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and an uneven rollout of the first vaccines, school superintendents from across the nation on Wednesday called on federal and state officials to immediately release all doses of the vaccine, and to make all teachers and school staff eligible for vaccination now.
Mike Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of state and district education leaders, joined superintendents from Texas, Florida, Washington, and Tennessee, and a health expert from the Rockefeller Foundation, in emphasizing that the nation must safely reopen schools as quickly as possible.
The vast majority of students do better academically and need the social and emotional supports they get when they attend school in person—and families must be able to go to work. The superintendents stressed the shortcomings of remote learning and noted that getting students back into classrooms is critical for their health and wellbeing and is essential for the nation’s economic recovery.
Superintendents said they are ready to provide personnel and school buildings to help speed up the vaccination process and called for state and federal support in order to reopen safely and fully:
- “Today, we are calling on the federal government to immediately release all doses of the vaccine —and are urging states to make all teachers and other staff eligible for vaccination now,” said Mike Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change. “We can all agree that we need to get our kids back to school quickly and safely. The best way to do this is to get teachers and staff vaccinated and to provide the resources to reopen safely. Unfortunately, many districts across the nation have not received the support they need from the federal government or their states.”
- “We serve over 70 percent of the highest-poverty families in the area,” said Pedro Martinez, superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District and board chair of Chiefs for Change. “We’ve provided technology, support to families—teachers are working 10 or 12 hours a day. And yet even with those efforts, our children learning remotely have struggled.”
- “If we are serious about opening our economy, we cannot do that without fully opening our schools,” said Robert Runcie, superintendent of Broward County Public Schools in Florida. “And if we look at opportunities to distribute the vaccine, it would make a lot of sense to look at our school system. We’ve got the locations—they are convenient. We have nurses in every single one of our schools.”
- “Our teachers…obviously would like to know when they will be eligible for the vaccine,” said Susan Enfield, superintendent of Highline Public Schools in Washington State. “I don’t have a good answer for them because right now I don’t think our state has a good answer. And that is clearly because there has not been a clear and reliable vaccine distribution plan that has been communicated at the federal level.”
- “Our plan consists of working with a local career tech college and bringing 32 students from that college along with 40 nurses we have in our school system,” said Millard House II, director of schools, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System in Tennessee. “What we will do is shut down one of our district administrative offices and use that office as the point of dispersion for the vaccine. We estimate that we’ll be able to vaccinate, of our 5,200 employees, 500 people a day.”
- “To fully reopen schools, teachers and staff must be vaccinated now,” said Mara G. Aspinall, advisor on COVID diagnostics at the Rockefeller Foundation and co-founder and professor of practice, biomedical diagnostics at Arizona State University. “That starts with a clear, comprehensive vaccination campaign that makes all teachers and school staff eligible for vaccination immediately—and it involves giving schools the resources to conduct regular COVID testing and implement other important precautions.”
To watch highlights from the press conference, please see this video.