Teacher unions ‘thrilled’ about teachers and school staff getting vaccinated

In this file photo from July 22, teachers in East Baton Rouge protest their system's planned reopening of schools. (Photo by JC Canicosa / Louisiana Illuminator)

Teachers unions across Louisiana are “thrilled” now that Gov. John Edwards’ administration is making teachers and staff in K-12 schools eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but one union leader said it’s no less important that school leaders keep proper mitigation measures and social distancing in place for the safety of schools’ staff and students.

Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Larry Carter in a written statement said adding teachers and staff in K-12 schools next in vaccine prioritization shows that the governor “values Louisiana’s teachers and school employees by ensuring that they will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine now, rather than waiting until the spring.”

“This is an important development for our teachers, school employees, and the communities they serve,” Carter said in the statement. “Vaccinating teachers and school employees is one of the best tools we have to keep schools safe and open and today’s decision will go a long way towards getting us back to normal.”

Tia T. Mills, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators said in a statement, “While we know that it won’t completely slow the spread of the virus, educators can now have the choice of participating in an opportunity to keep them safer while working in the profession they love.” 

According to National Education Association, to which the LAE belongs, 70 percent of NEA members polled said they’d feel safer if they were vaccinated..

“We’ve always prioritized teachers as a group,” Edwards said at a Thursday press conference. “Now is the right time to do this.” Teachers will become eligible for the vaccine Monday, Feb. 22.

Edwards said distance learning has not been optimal for students in K-12 schools, and during in-person learning in elementary schools, “it is almost impossible for teachers to remain physically distant from their students.”

United Teachers of New Orleans President Wanda Richard echoed Carter’s sentiments in a statement to the Illuminator expressing appreciation for teachers being prioritized. Richard said her organization is “thrilled at the announcement that teachers and school employees will now have access to the COVID-19 vaccine.”

“Now that teachers and school employees can access the vaccine,” Richard said to the Illuminator. “We are one step closer to returning to normalcy.”

However, Richard warned school systems against complacency against COVID-19 in the midst of the news, and “it is still crucial that schools enforce mitigation measures like masks and physical distancing until everyone has had an opportunity to get the vaccine.”