Zeph Capo to members: An incredible victory with vaccine prioritization for school employees

Dear Members and All School Employees,

Texas AFT and educators across Texas achieved an amazing victory with President Biden directing states to include and prioritize teachers and school employees in current vaccination tiers, with a goal of vaccinating all school employees by March 31.

Texas AFT and AFT at the national level have long pushed for school employees to be included in the first tier of vaccinations—something done in the majority of states as CDC guidance included school staff as essential workers. But Texas officials took a different path and based its rollouts on age and health conditions.

It’s been a disheartening two months since the vaccine rollout to see Texas officials continue to push for more and more students and staff on campuses without equipping them with protection from the vaccine. Biden’s announcement changes the outlook on safe campuses, but I want to be clear and outline some of the challenges along with the positives looking forward.

1) The federal government is using the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program to implement its plan, which means it will concentrate on prioritizing school employees through vaccinations at pharmacies. Additionally, the state has issued its own directive for vaccination providers to immediately include school employees as eligible to schedule appointments.

2) The CDC is also requiring “all enrolled retail pharmacy providers to set aside all currently unbooked vaccination slots for the exclusive use of teachers, school staff, and childcare workers through March 31, 2021.” It’s likely to be challenging in the beginning to get an appointment until more vaccine supplies are available. For instance, CVS pharmacies already have the school employee designation on their scheduling website, but the vast majority of appointments are already booked. You can also use https://vaccinefinder.org/search/ to find more options.

3) The Texas Education Agency this afternoon released new guidance on masks in response to the governor’s actions lifting the statewide mask mandate yesterday. TEA is leaving in place its mask requirements while allowing local school boards to override them and decide if masks should be mandatory. I predict that this will lead to harmful, divisive local battles—which is unfortunate, because even with vaccinations on the rise, health officials are still stressing the use of masks as one of the most effective tools we have to stop the spread.

I’m encouraging our union family to continue to fight for safety measures like masks, social distancing, and districts providing health-compromised employees with accommodations to stay remote. In the race to normalcy, Gov. Abbott jumped the gun with his dangerous removal of the statewide mask mandate yesterday, a move that appears to be politically motivated to shift attention away from the controversies over the state’s power outages. His callous disregard of school employees continues.

But let’s take a moment to celebrate the leadership from the Biden administration in doing the right thing and prioritizing school employees. We all want to get back to our schools to teach in person without fearing the dire consequences of a serious infection. While this is only one piece to that end, it certainly is to be commended.

I encourage all of you to make safety a priority and work to get a vaccination appointment. We will continue to update you as more information is released.

In solidarity,

Zeph Capo, Texas AFT President

Note that under the federal directive: “Teachers, school staff, and child care workers are defined as: those who work in pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools, as well as Head Start and Early Head Start programs (including teachers, staff, and bus drivers) and those who work as or for licensed child care providers, including center-based and family care providers.”

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