ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Teachers are now in line to get the COVID-19 vaccine. There’s still no vaccine yet for anyone under the age of 16. So what does that mean for New Mexico schools? How are teachers feeling about returning to the classroom?

“Since the very beginning it’s been both sides of that coin – really wanting to get back, and being somewhat scared,” explained Ellen Bernstein, President of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation. “Educators feel optimistic that having the vaccine is one of the ways we’re gonna be able to open up schools in-person for our students.”

Bernstein said the teacher’s union recently put out a survey asking educators how they feel about taking the COVID-19 vaccine. Teachers are listed in the state’s current vaccine phase, which includes early education, K-12 teachers, staff, and caregivers. “Based on the answers we got, I think it does help people feel confident about going back to in-person teaching and opening up our schools,” Bernstein said.

New Mexico’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan

Albuquerque Public School officials said the vaccine will not be mandatory for its employees. However, APS is strongly encouraging its educators to get vaccinated. Bernstein is confident most of them will. “Most of the people I work with and that I know when I ask them that question, they say ‘yes, please sign me up,'” said Bernstein.

How soon it’ll all happen depends on the supply of the COVID-19 vaccine, and how quickly the state can move people through the process. If and when infection rates decline and the state gives the green light, APS said it’s ready with a plan. “Over two-week increments, we’d begin introducing kindergarteners first, then first through third graders and eventually the fourth and fifth-grade classrooms,” said APS Interim Superintendent, Scott Elder, in a video update from December 2020.

There’s still no COVID-19 vaccine for kids, only those 16 and older. So, when kids do return to the classroom, COVID-safe practices will still be in place for a while.

Still, educators said they’re hoping to see their kids again in-person soon. “The comments are all about getting back to school, and getting schools open,” said Bernstein.

APS’ current plan requires Bernalillo County to be in the green for two weeks before the reopening process can start. The state’s Medical Advisory Team is working on a new set of recommendations for public schools, and plan on releasing more information in the next couple of weeks.