Teachers in Denver’s highest-poverty schools will be first in line for the COVID-19 vaccine when eligibility for educators opens on Monday, according to the school district’s plan.
Mike Cammilleri, a dean at Cheltenham Elementary School, where 94% of students qualify for subsidized school meals, is slated to get his first vaccine dose on Monday.
“Anything that gets us a step closer to what we used to call normal is progress in my mind,” Cammilleri said of his decision to get vaccinated.
Most Colorado school districts have offered in-person learning to at least some grades for most of the school year, and the districts that closed buildings in November and December as COVID-19 cases surged are back in person now, even without vaccines.
Gov. Jared Polis has repeatedly said he thinks classrooms are relatively safe. But in response to demand from educators, Polis moved them up in the state’s priority line for vaccines.
Teachers, child care workers, bus drivers, food service workers, and other school staff who were previously projected to start getting vaccinated in March can now get their shots starting Monday. Around the state, each school district is working with public health officials and local providers on the logistics of vaccinating hundreds or even thousands of employees.
Some school staff in Denver, including nurses, psychologists, and security guards, as well as staff members who are 70 or older, have already begun getting vaccinated because either their job titles or their age made them eligible last month.
But the majority of Denver Public Schools employees are included in this next round of eligibility. The district’s plan calls for focusing first on staff members who indicated in a survey that they would definitely get the vaccine before moving on to those who were unsure.
Lauren Dunn, a senior adviser in the district who is heading the vaccine rollout, said she hopes that all Denver educators will be fully vaccinated before spring break, which starts March 29. Depending on supply, educators should receive their first dose by the first week of March.
“We will not leave a dose on the table,” Dunn said.
The district is aiming to go school by school, vaccinating all staff at each school over the course of one or more days. Staff won’t be vaccinated on site. They will have to travel to an appointment with a medical provider. Many appointments will be during the school day, so the district is allowing schools to hold asynchronous learning days — where students do assignments on their own at home — on the days when teachers are being vaccinated.
Prioritizing schools that serve students from low-income families is “a focus on our students who need us most,” Dunn told the school board Thursday.
“We really just want to prioritize those schools so they can be serving those students as quickly as possible, with the greatest safety and comfort as possible,” she said.
Daniel Walter, a social studies teacher at West Early College, where 90% of students qualify for subsidized meals, called the district’s prioritization plan “a really valiant effort.” Low-income communities in Denver have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19.
“If teachers in those schools are in close contact with those communities, then I think that does make sense to help stem the spread in those communities,” Walter said.
The district is also prioritizing staff members with health conditions that make them vulnerable to complications from COVID-19, and those age 65 and older, Dunn said.
As of this week, all Denver schools are open for in-person learning. Elementary schools are holding in-person classes five days a week, while many middle and high schools are operating on a hybrid schedule that combines in-person with remote learning.
Denver Public Schools is working with several health care providers to vaccinate its employees, including Children’s Hospital Colorado, SCL Health, and Denver Health.
About 5,000 of Denver Public Schools’ approximately 15,000 employees were eligible for the vaccine last month. As of Jan. 30, about 60% of the employees offered a vaccine through Children’s Hospital got one, Dunn said. However, the percentage of vaccinated staff might actually be higher, she said, because some might have gotten it through other means.
In addition, Dunn said about 850 of those 5,000 employees are signed up to be vaccinated Saturday at a mass clinic being held by SCL Health in Denver.
Dunn said another 1,000 educators would get their first shots on Monday and Tuesday.