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News >  K-12 education

‘An extra layer of protection’: Spokane teachers relieved as state OKs them for COVID-19 vaccine

UPDATED: Thu., March 4, 2021

North Central High School paraeducator Kelly Harmon, center, offers directions to a student looking for a classroom for the first time this school year earlier this month in Spokane. North Central is one of the schools where some students would be sent to other campuses as part of Spokane Public Schools' new boundary proposal.   (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
North Central High School paraeducator Kelly Harmon, center, offers directions to a student looking for a classroom for the first time this school year earlier this month in Spokane. North Central is one of the schools where some students would be sent to other campuses as part of Spokane Public Schools' new boundary proposal.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

As secondary students returned to Spokane Public Schools this week, many teachers breathed a sigh of relief – through their masks, of course.

They also breathed a bit easier knowing that they’ve finally been prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations following an announcement from Gov. Jay Inslee’s office that was spurred by a directive from President Joe Biden.

Sarah Jess, a Spanish-language teacher at Lewis and Clark High School, acknowledged last week that she had been apprehensive about the return to in-person learning.

However, she felt much better this week.

“Teachers having the opportunity to get their vaccinations has put a lot of teachers at ease, especially when we have so many kids back,” Jess said.

Spokane Public Schools returned to in-person learning this week for all secondary students who wish to do so. Even with students attending every other day, that means almost 1,000 students at Lewis and Clark.

Prioritizing teachers will be “for the greater good, an extra layer of protection,” Jess said. “I think that seeing everything in motion and all the safety protocols that we’ve implemented has made a big difference.”

Shawn Carney, a science teacher at Rogers High School, said “it seems that a lot more teachers are getting vaccinated than a week” ago.

Carney, who recently received his shots, said that it was reassuring to be vaccinated.

“Let’s face it, walking around and talking to the students, I’m sometimes going to be closer than 6 feet away,” Carney said.

At Sacajawea Middle School, Principal Brian Ochse said that prior to students’ return, the school had spent “a good part of the last two weeks” teaching protocols and procedures.

Since returning, students have been “very compliant” in wearing masks and following other protocols, Ochse said.

School districts in Washington have been among the slowest in the country to reopen to a broader set of students as they remain locked in labor negotiations.

The teachers’ union in Seattle voted Wednesday night not to return to the classroom. It said it’s not confident in the district’s plan to keep educators safe from COVID-19.

On Wednesday, members of the Seattle Education Association voted to stay in the distance learning model and refused to return to buildings for in-person instruction. They also gave a no-confidence vote to Superintendent Denise Juneau.

In Spokane, Superintendent Adam Swinyard said Thursday that “we’re excited that all of our educators are going to have access to the vaccine.”

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