According to a new report, some of the nation’s largest school districts have not — and cannot — keep track of which teachers and school support staff have received a COVID-19 vaccine, despite a national push to vaccinate teachers before students return to in-classroom learning.
The Biden administration has largely dodged the question over whether all teachers and support staff must be vaccinated before children can return to classrooms, and while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky has said that teachers do not need to be fully vaccinated to make the transition from virtual classrooms, the CDC itself has refused to make that claim officially.
President Joe Biden said last week that “all adults” can be vaccinated by the end of May, and made clear that he believes teachers should be prioritized for the shot. Most major teachers’ unions have made getting the vaccine one of the demands that must be met before they agree to allow union-protected teachers to return to classrooms.
But according to the Associated Press, that demand may be meaningless, because most major school districts currently have no way of tracking which teachers are vaccinated and which are not, giving them no insight into how close they are to returning to in-classroom learning using that particular metric.
“States and many districts have not been keeping track of school employee vaccinations, even as the U.S. prioritizes teachers nationwide,” the outlet said Saturday. “Vaccines are not required for educators to return to school buildings, but the absence of data complicates efforts to address parents’ concerns about health risk levels and some teachers unions’ calls for widespread vaccinations as a condition of reopening schools.”
Worse still, the districts have no way of knowing whether teachers who are being offered the vaccine are actually taking it or whether, as in many other professions where a COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for a return to work, those teachers are refusing the vaccine.
“The number of school staff members receiving vaccinations — and refusal rates — are unclear in several large districts where teachers were prioritized, including Las Vegas, Chicago, and Louisville, Kentucky,” AP noted. ‘In Oregon, where teachers began receiving vaccines in January, the state Health Authority can’t say for sure how many have been vaccinated because the agency does not track the profession of recipients. Portland Public Schools, the state’s largest district where learning remains largely remote, is not keeping track either as it works toward launching a hybrid model for elementary schools by April.”
Notably, Chicago is one of the school districts where information on teacher vaccinations is not available — and it is also one of the school districts where the teachers union demanded vaccine priority.
The problem, it seems, is that federal and state privacy restrictions are preventing districts from collecting specific health information, including vaccine data, on individuals. And some states were under so much pressure to create vaccine sign-up sites and staff distribution locations that they set up data collection systems that create only very basic profiles of vaccine recipients.
“Some state agencies and districts have said privacy concerns prevent them from tracking or publishing teacher vaccination data. Others say vaccine administration sites are not tracking recipients’ occupations and they are not in a position to survey employees themselves,” the AP says.
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