the following letter was sent to Missouri DHSS officials on February 10th
Dear Director Randall Williams, M.D., Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services:
We are humbly writing on behalf of the tens of thousands of Missouri public educators anxiously awaiting protection against COVID-19. We ask you to prioritize Missouri school teachers and support staff for immediate vaccination.
Our state's teachers and support staff have faithfully risked their lives this year. We have stepped up to the challenge to meet the educational, social and physical needs of students, families, and the community in every way possible. We have been thanked as heroes - and just as often have been accused of 'not doing enough.' And yet: we have continued to place the needs of the children as our first priorities. Imagine, then, the dismay and chagrin teachers feel in knowing that many of our state's school employees within Phase IB Tier 3 may not have access to the vaccine for several months. Therefore, depending on the region in which they teach and live, the current distribution plan may not provide teachers and support staff full viral protection before the end of this school year.
Our teachers, school bus drivers, support staff, and cafeteria workers are exposed daily to this life-threatening virus. In fact, 94.49% of all Missouri state-funded schools are offering onsite options to families; our state does indeed have school buildings open despite any other public rhetoric. Many educators have been teaching onsite since the beginning of the school year in August. We need vaccinations not to 'get back' to schools; we are already in schools, even as emerging viral variants enter our communities and school hallways. Prompt vaccinations will maximize learning; prompt vaccinations will undoubtedly save staff and student lives.
Even more concerning are the addendums and lowered safety precautions that many school districts are now implementing. Many districts are no longer identifying close contacts if most individuals were presumably masked. Many districts are utilizing "modified" quarantines in which exposed students are still in buildings. Many districts have abandoned the federal research-backed guidelines of 6-foot distanced learning for the convenience of full classrooms. Few Missouri counties employ a mask mandate, and many schools are holding instruction without mask protocols. This indicates an even more pressing need for Missouri educators to receive higher prioritization to the vaccine.
On a more personal note, three out of the five of us have fallen ill due to COVID-19, all from likely exposures at school. The lingering physical effects of this disease will follow us for some time. Our narratives are not anomalies: state and national data continue to point to the fact COVID-19 is spreading in our school buildings. COVID-19 has taken not only the lives of health-care personnel but also the lives of our educators and school support staff. We mourn the losses of these dedicated colleagues who sacrificed their own safety for the education and well-being of Missouri students.
Twenty-six states are choosing to vaccinate educators immediately, including seven of our eight bordering states. Policy makers and community leaders have asked school buildings to be open. Missouri teachers and support staff are doing what has been asked of us. We ask that you now do the right thing.
Please prioritize Missouri educators and support staff for immediate vaccinations. Feel free to contact us with any questions you may have (firstname.lastname@example.org), and thank you for your consideration.
Darrion Cockrell, 2021 Missouri Teacher of the Year, Lindbergh Melissa Grandel, 2020 Missouri Teacher of the Year, Fordland Shelly Parks, 2019 Missouri Teacher of the Year, Francis Howell Beth Davey, 2018 Missouri Teacher of the Year, Ritenour
Darbie Valenti Huff, 2017 Missouri Teacher of the Year, St. Joseph
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