Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden recently signed his name, along with 10 other metro Atlanta superintendents, to a letter sent to Governor Brian Kemp, asking that teachers and education staff be moved into Phase 1A for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Phase 1A+ of the vaccine distribution process includes healthcare personnel, long-term care facility residents and staff and those aged 65 and older. Teachers and others who work in education are currently in the next vaccine group, Phase 1B, along with other essential workers.
For now, state officials do not have an exact date for when the next phase for vaccinations will begin.
Bearden told the Forsyth County News that in the past few weeks, the metro Atlanta superintendents have discussed the importance of school staff members receiving the vaccine during its regular virtual meetings.
“We all realize that the sooner staff members get vaccinated, the sooner we can get back to a [better] level of normalcy than where we are right now,” Bearden said.
In the letter, the superintendents emphasize that there is “no replacement” for face-to-face learning for the students in their districts. Both students and parents have struggled with virtual learning throughout the pandemic, especially as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in some districts and schools are sometimes forced to temporarily close, sending even face-to-face students back home.
In some districts throughout the state, face-to-face learning is still not an option for students.
“As superintendents, we hear each day from families who implore us to not return to a full virtual model; likewise, we hear each day from teachers who are scared about the threat of COVID-19 to them and their loved ones,” the letter states. “At its heart, a school is a group of students and a group of educators; the magic that happens depends on both groups being together.”
The superintendents asked that Kemp recognize the value of the state’s educational staff members and “prioritize their role in children’s lives and reinforce the importance of our schools by doing what is needed to keep them safe and keep our schools open.”
Being grouped among other essential workers, Bearden said that educators work in a unique environment in that they teach or interact with 20-30 students in a small classroom each day. On top of face-to-face learning working better for both teachers and students, Bearden said it's part of his responsibilities as FCS’ superintendent to advocate for staff members and ask that Kemp prioritize the vaccinations.
The Governor’s Office has since released a statement regarding the superintendents’ request, noting that many in the state are still left waiting for a vaccine.
"This is a simple math problem the superintendents who signed this letter should certainly understand,” the statement reads. “As the governor and Dr. [Kathleen] Toomey have said multiple times: Georgia is not currently receiving enough vaccine supply to provide priority vaccination to over 400,000 teachers and school staff. Additional vaccine does not appear out of thin air and the data is clear. With a weekly allocation of 146,000 doses, the current 1A plus population still accounts for over 2 million high-risk Georgians. Georgia has currently reported over 741,000 vaccinations.
“These superintendents should explain which currently eligible population should be, in their view, sent to the back of the line for vaccination. Seniors? Health care workers? First responders and law enforcement? The governor has repeatedly stated …. that as soon as Georgia begins to receive increased vaccine supply, teachers and school staff will absolutely be included in any expanded criteria,” according to the statement.
Bearden said he and the other superintendents recognized the “supply and demand issue” in Georgia surrounding the vaccine and the need to prioritize health care workers and elderly residents who are most at risk of developing serious symptoms of COVID-19.
“From my perspective, the only reason I wanted to send that letter [was] just to basically say once there is enough supply on hand, I hope staff members who work in school systems can get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Bearden said.
Bearden emphasized that the letter was “in no way a criticism” of Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan or the current administration.
“Gov. Kemp and Lt. Gov. Duncan both, since they have been elected to office, have been incredibly supportive of public schools, and both of them have been very responsive to superintendents,” Bearden said. “I can tell you Lt. Gov. Duncan, who lives in our community, if I message him, he responds almost immediately. I think it’s incredible, the quick turnaround, and I’d say the same is true with Gov. Kemp.”
Going forward, Bearden and the other superintendents simply hope that teachers and school staff can receive their vaccines sooner rather than later so they can open up schools and send kids back to the classroom.
Aside from Bearden, 10 other superintendents signed the letter sent to Kemp:
Dr. Lisa Herring, Superintendent, Atlanta Public Schools;
Dr. Robert Downs, Superintendent, Buford City Schools;
Dr. Morcease Beasley, Superintendent, Clayton County Schools;
Mr. Chris Ragsdale, Superintendent, Cobb County Schools;
Dr. David Dude, Superintendent, City Schools of Decatur;
Mrs. Cheryl Watson-Harris, Superintendent, Dekalb County Schools;
Dr. Mike Looney, Superintendent, Fulton County Schools;
Mr. Alvin Wilbanks, Superintendent, Gwinnett County Schools;
Dr. Grant Rivera, Superintendent, Marietta City Schools;
Dr. Terry Oatts, Superintendent, Rockdale County Schools.
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