Hart district wants state, county to prioritize vaccines for educators

A health care worker gets a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital vaccination center on Friday, 011520, 011520. Dan Watson/The Signal

Students in grades seven through 12 can’t yet return to school in Los Angeles County, but William S. Hart Union High School District board members want county and state officials to prioritize the vaccination of educators to prepare for reopening. 

In five letters issued Thursday, the board urged officials to, “Please do everything you can to make vaccination of teachers and education staff the immediate priority it needs to be.” 

A letter was sent to: Gov. Gavin Newsom; state Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita; Assemblywoman Suzette Valladares, R-Santa Clarita; 5th District County Supervisor Kathryn Barger; and Barbara Ferrer, county Public Health director. 

In the letters, which read the same for all five officials, board members emphasized that while the district has worked hard to make remote learning a smooth operation as best as possible, “it has become clear to all of us that this practice of ‘virtual school’ is not sustainable.” 

“We are regularly hearing from parents and students in despair over the seemingly intractable commitment to lockdowns, social distancing and school closures,” read the letters, which added that they have also heard from teachers and parents who fear a return to in-person instruction puts their children at risk of contracting COVID-19. 

“We are forced to balance these two realities as we navigate our way back to the restoration of in-person classes in our district,” read the letters. “There are 22,000 students in the Hart district that have been denied access to healthy, normal activities since the start of the pandemic.  Immediate access to vaccines for educators would expedite our ability to get these children back into classrooms and would restore the ability for our young people to safely interact as they should be doing.” 

By doing so, board members add, “thousands of parents and family members” can return to work. 

As of Monday, the district had not yet heard back from those they sent the letters to, according to Hart district spokesman Dave Caldwell. 

Their letters come after the city of Long Beach, which has its own public health department, began vaccinating teachers last month and plans to reopen schools for the youngest students by the end of March. 

L.A. County is following the state’s timeline of making educators, as well as those in the child care sector, eligible for vaccinations on March 1. Countywide, there are about 691,000 people in the education and child care sectors, according to Public Health officials. 

Newsom announced Friday and reiterated Monday that California is “setting aside 10% of all first doses” and is “beginning with a baseline of 75,000 doses every week that will be made available for educators and child care workers that are supporting our efforts to get our kids back into in-person instruction.”

Meanwhile, a return date for high school students in Los Angeles County remains unknown as the county must first see its case rate drop to seven new cases per 100,000, or the state’s “red tier,” in order for grades seven through 12 to qualify for in-person instruction. Last week, the county’s daily case rate allowed for the return of transitional kindergarten through sixth grade. 

If the county reaches the seven-per-100,000 mark, a potential return to Hart District campuses could be March 22, according to Superintendent Mike Kuhlman. A possible timeline, he said during the Feb. 17 school board meeting, is that the district reviews the case rate March 9 and then staff and teachers would return to school sites March 15 to prepare for the possible March 22 reopening. 

“This is only a possibility for us,” he said, “if we reach that seven-per-100,000 case rate.”

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