ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – While the state has given the green-light for schools to reopen next month in a hybrid setting, many teachers across the state said they want to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before that happens. There’s also a long list of school support staff who want access to the vaccine, including janitors, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers.
According to the New Mexico Public Education Department, there are nearly 50,000 total school staff across the state. There are potentially thousands more ahead of them in line for the vaccine.
“Vaccines have been certainly of the hottest, if not the most important topic on the minds of many of our educators,” said Ryan Stewart, Secretary for the New Mexico Public Education Department during a virtual news conference on January 26.
On the heels of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s announcement this week that, “Every school district in the state will be able to welcome all ages of students safely back to the classroom on February 8th,” schools, parents, and educators are learning it’s easier said than done.
Aside from logistics, some districts are working to put in place, such as rehiring bus drivers and making sure all staff is ready, many teachers have been vocal about wanting access to the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to the classroom. Some educators may fall into the state’s current vaccine category if they’re 75 and older, or have health conditions that put them at risk for COVID-complications. But it’s not just teachers who want to be prioritized.
“I will continue to advocate strongly, that our educators, and it’s not just the teachers, we have custodians, we have counselors and principals that are in the schools as well,” said Scott Elder, Interim Superintendent for Albuquerque Public Schools, during a news conference on January 27th. “EAs, they all need the vaccines,” he added.
According to the NMPED, there are more than 17,000 teachers across the state and nearly 50,000 total school staff. Currently, the state Department of Health is administering roughly 8,000 to 9,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses per day, with hundreds of thousands of people in line, according to its public dashboard.
“At the very least, I think we need to be really careful about vaccinating staff who are dealing with high-risk populations of students,” said Billie Helean, President of the Rio Rancho School Employees’ Union, and elementary school teacher. “It’s a tricky issue. We need more vaccine, and we need it yesterday,” she said.
APS Interim Superintendent Scott Elder told the ‘Jackie, Tony and Donnie In the Morning’ radio show on Thursday, that he believes school-based personnel should be considered frontline workers when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine. He also acknowledged the state’s limited vaccine supply, and “tremendous demand.”
Elder also told the radio show hosts that unless a teacher has a qualifying medical condition that prevents them from returning to teach in-person, they will likely have to return to the building under a hybrid plan.