SMSD hopes more vaccine doses for teachers will bring students back to the classroom

Teachers in Pennsylvania demanding virtual learning as COVID-19 cases surge
Posted at 4:49 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 18:19:10-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — School districts are hopeful that Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly's announcement to earmark COVID-19 vaccine doses for teachers and students will help get kids back in the classroom faster.

The federal government is sending 25,000 additional doses to Kansas.

In total, Kansas will receive 115,000 doses per week.

"I think the announcement from the governor yesterday was one we cheered," Christy Ziegler, Chief of Student Services at the Shawnee Mission School District, said. "I think that will allow us, I'm hopeful it will allow us, to move much faster than anticipated."

SMSD has already started offering vaccines to its staff. About 1,600 teachers and staff have received their first dose. Another 900 staffers are set to receive their second dose next week, which will then make up 42% of staffers.

Ziegler said anyone who worked in a health-related function got their vaccine in Phase 1. Now, they're prioritizing staff who work with students who have a hard time wearing a mask all day and prioritizing by age.

The district is working to send alerts out to support staff, teachers, administration members who help in the classrooms or lunchrooms, substitute teachers, bus drivers, and any other related services staff.

Ziegler said the district hopes to offer every staff member the opportunity to be vaccinated by mid-spring. They originally anticipated summertime.

"I know it's a good thing. It's providing a sense of relief for our staff," Ziegler said. "We all are ready to go, we want to be back, want our kids back."

It's a relief for many parents too.

"I'm ready, let's get them out!" Liz Benditt said, a parent and member of Education First Shawnee Mission. "My kids have acclimated really well to the online learning environment but I think they're really suffering socially."

Benditt says some parents are on two opposite extremes of the issue but the parents she knows fall right in the middle: knowing COVID-19 is a health threat but also knowing kids learn better in school.

"With thoughtful mitigation we have learned you can safely return to some amount of in-person practice with masks on and being safe, and get a much better and more intrinsic learning experience by being in person," Benditt said.

The Kansas National Education Association takes the same approach.

"Educators are really pushing to get those vaccines and work with their districts to do all the other things: distancing, masking, cleaning, all the hygiene issues, temperature checks. All those things are critical," Marcus Baltzell, spokesperson for the Kansas National Education Association, said.

KNEA recently held a virtual panel for 500 of its members with two immunologists from Children's Mercy. Baltzell said they compared going back to full in-person learning to Swiss cheese.

"Our mitigation strategies are kind of like that Swiss cheese; we have to layer them but they all have to be there to make sure we are as protected as possible, so that includes vaccines and the other mitigation practices," Baltzell said.