This story was originally published by Chalkbeat Colorado. More at chalkbeat.org.
Teachers cannot yet get the COVID-19 vaccine in Colorado, but some school staff can.
School nurses, health technicians who assist them, occupational and physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, campus security guards, and educators who work with children with serious disabilities are among those whose names have been submitted by school districts in the Denver metro area to health care providers administering the vaccine right now.
Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, counts about 1,600 eligible employees — which represents about 10% of the district’s approximately 15,000 employees.
Classroom teachers, principals, and other school staff who make up the bulk of districts’ workforces will likely have to wait until at least March to get vaccinated per the state’s priority list. The state is giving preference to health care workers, first responders, and people age 70 or older before essential workers such as teachers, food service workers, and bus drivers.
Keeping track of who is eligible to receive the vaccine and when has proven tricky for school districts, partly because of frequent changes. At first, teachers were in the second of three vaccination phases. In December, Gov. Jared Polis moved teachers up to phase 1B.
But there are lots of groups in phase 1B. A dotted line separates higher and lower priority groups on the state’s list of eligible categories within phase 1B. In January, Polis clarified that teachers and others below the dotted line will have to wait for the vaccine until all those above the dotted line, including health care workers and older Coloradans, get their shots.
The state clarified the priority order after some districts had announced plans to begin vaccinating teachers, and some educators had signed up on their own to get their shots at local pharmacies. The move disappointed teachers and caused eager districts to backtrack.
“We have indeed paused our vaccination plan due to the new guidance and have not begun vaccinating educators,” said Abbe Smith, spokesperson for the suburban Cherry Creek School District, which was among the first to announce a plan.
But districts are moving ahead with connecting employees whose jobs put them above the dotted line with private health care providers administering the vaccine, such as Centura Health, Kaiser Permanente, and Children’s Hospital Colorado. In many cases, the health care providers are then inviting the employees to make an appointment to receive their shot.
Chalkbeat asked several metro-area school districts which of their employees are eligible to get vaccinated right now. The district’s answers varied slightly. Some districts listed employees who may not be eligible under the state’s rules, underscoring the confusion that has occurred.
Denver Public Schools, Jeffco Public Schools, Aurora Public Schools, Cherry Creek School District, Sheridan School District, and Adams 14 all listed nurses and health technicians as immediately eligible for the vaccine. Most districts said they’re not tracking how many employees actually get the vaccine, though Adams 14 noted three nurses already had.
Denver, Jeffco, Cherry Creek, and Sheridan provided the most detailed lists of eligible employees. All four districts also listed occupational and physical therapists, mental health providers, and speech-language pathologists or audiologists.
Denver, Cherry Creek, and Sheridan also listed educators who work with students with severe special needs, who may come into contact with bodily fluids. These educators are also more likely to work with students who are unable to wear face masks.
The same three districts also listed school security staff as currently eligible for the vaccine. First responders are prioritized in phase 1B above the dotted line.
A few districts, including Cherry Creek, listed food service workers as eligible for the vaccine right now. But a spokesperson for the Tri-County Health Department, whose jurisdiction includes the Cherry Creek district, said that seems incorrect. Smith, the Cherry Creek spokesperson, said the district submitted its list before the governor’s most recent changes.
Sheridan also listed early childhood staff as currently eligible, while Jeffco listed custodians. Neither group is included in the state’s list of 1B employees above the dotted line. Sheridan spokesperson Mark Stevens clarified that only four of Sheridan’s early childhood staff are eligible because they meet other requirements under 1B.
Most districts have also submitted lists of employees who are age 70 or older. Denver Public Schools, for example, estimates about 400 of its employees fall into that category.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.