Protecting Our Staff
The “I” in “VITAL” is for immunizations. COVID-19 vaccinations will protect our teachers and school staff who will be exposed to others for long durations of time indoors.
APS and Arlington County need to quickly ramp up vaccinations to provide the highly effective two-dose vaccination to all staff who will be returning to school buildings first, and then to others.
Some APS Staff Aren’t Vaccinated Yet
About 1,800 Arlington Public Schools staff members received Moderna’s first dose beginning January 16. The first cohort will not be receiving second doses, and have full protection until between February 27 and March 6. More staff begin returning to school on February 23.
Given some of the difficulties that staff members have had getting vaccinated, it is likely some teachers will not be able to have their first and second doses completed until the end of March. Many teachers have questioned why it was not possible to allow more teachers to get both shots before coming back.
Now, staff members receiving the second doses en masse, and some are having side effects and needing to call in sick. There appears to be a shortage of substitute teachers. Teachers report calling many people to try to cover for them and no one will take the assignment. There are no substitute teacher coordinators system-wide, so the impact of many teachers experiencing symptoms — as is normal after the second dose — could cause operational issues for weeks. Virtual classes at some schools are being told to just do asynchronous work, because there are no subs for virtual. Any aide that isn’t required by an IEP may be asked to cover when there is no substitute teacher available, as well as other teachers during planning time.
Our coalition has made these suggestions to APS:
- APS should wait to return to buildings to allow staff to have full vaccine protection. The Moderna vaccine is only 51% effective 2 weeks after the 1st dose, once the immune system has responded. 94% effectiveness begins 2 weeks after the 2nd dose. Let’s keep our staff as safe as we can, and prevent lapses in educational delivery at the same time.
- Level 1 staff, custodial staff, cafeteria staff, and others already in the schools should be prioritized for vaccination in scheduling. Some central office staff at Syphax, who can still easily telework indefinitely, have been vaccinated before our frontline school-based workers.
- More appointments and vaccination clinics need to be made available AFTER school day hours, and better coordination with surrounding counties where many teachers live has been needed. Some teachers have been unable to sign up for the limited number of slots that are available after school.
- We don’t yet know if the vaccine prevents disease transmission among family members at home. Our safety efforts at schools, as well as staff accommodation plans, should reflect there is still some uncertainty. APS should allow remote work for staff with family members in CDC high-risk categories for COVID-19 complications.
- Vaccines may be less effective against the new, more contagious variants (UK B.1.1.7, South African B.1.351, Brazilian P.1). We should not treat vaccinated staff as fully immune. We need a plan for contact tracing that makes clear what triggers mandatory quarantines for staff and students.