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Largest PA Teachers' Union Calls For Members To Be Prioritized In COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

Heather Khalifa
Philadelphia Inquirer
In this file photo, a student walks into a classroom at Jay Cooke Elementary in North Philadelphia.

While some teachers’ unions are taking a hardline approach on members getting vaccinated before they head back into the classroom, the commonwealth’s largest educators’ coalition is taking a more flexible stance.

The group wants teachers to be prioritized​ for the COVID-19 vaccine but, notes it’s not a prerequisite for returning to full-time, in-person learning.

Teachers are slated to be next in line for the vaccine in the 1b classification of the state’s rollout, along with clergy and postal workers.

But, PSEA spokesman Chris Lilienthal says the association sees a way to start vaccinating teachers now — without upending the whole process.

They are recommending the state set aside a portion of the vaccine allotment for educators.

“While it may take a number of weeks to occur, we think there is a way to have this running on a parallel track along with everything else,” Lilienthal said.

The state Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment.

The Wolf Administration maintains a limited vaccine supply is the main cause for the stunted rollout.

In the meantime, PSEA would like to see vigorous public health measures in schools — like consistent masking and social distancing.

“Overcrowded classrooms, overcrowded cafeterias, kids in hallways very close to each other – these are all things that put us at greater risk of spreading the virus within our school buildings and that’s something we really want to avoid,” Lilienthal said.

The group’s calls are consistent with new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to reopen schools safely. The updated recommendations call for mitigation efforts like keeping desks spaced six feet apart and regular facility cleanings.

“We have tried to stick with the science. The Biden Administration has shared that philosophy, I believe… PSEA was pleased to see the CDC guidance make such a strong emphasis on those safety measures and also, reinforcing the importance of vaccinations for teachers,” Lilienthal said.

The commonwealth is still in phase 1a of the vaccine rollout. To date, some 1.7 million doses have been administered. About eight million doses are needed before they can move to the next phase.

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