Local education officials are calling on Gov. Greg Abbott and the state’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel to add teachers and other school staff to its list of frontline workers so they can receive the coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible.

San Antonio health care workers received the first doses of the vaccine last week, stoking hopes that an end to the coronavirus pandemic is within sight.

Texas’ Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel (EVAP) identified who should receive the coronavirus vaccine first to protect the most vulnerable populations and vital resources, according to the Department of State Health Services website. The panel decided health care workers, frontline workers at greater risk of getting COVID-19 like emergency medical service providers and others who transport patients to hospitals, and people who are more likely to contract the disease and die should receive the first doses of the vaccine.

The only school staff included in the second tier of people to receive the vaccine were school nurses. They are listed alongside outpatient physicians and nurses, pharmacy staff, medical examiners, and morticians. The vaccine is being distributed to the first tier of health care workers directly caring for COVID-19 patients, home health care workers, and long-term care facility staff and residents.

New COVID-19 vaccine guidelines updated Monday state that people 65 and older or those with certain medical conditions will be prioritized for vaccination after health care workers and long-term care facility staff and residents. Teachers and other school staff who fall into those categories are eligible to receive the vaccine, along with others who cannot work from home.

Several San Antonio education officials believe all school staff members should have the opportunity to receive the vaccine after health care workers. The Northside and Judson Independent School Districts boards adopted resolutions last week, urging Abbott and the EVAP to add all school staff to the list of designated frontline workers.

State Board of Education District 2 member Ruben Cortez Jr. drafted the resolution many Texas school boards have approved, including Houston ISD, the state’s largest district. Cortez also penned a letter to Abbott on Dec. 3, requesting the governor expand the frontline worker definition to include all school staff.

“While some school employees have been empowered to transition to virtual settings, many have been meeting face-to-face with students, parents, and other staff since the summer,” Cortez wrote in the letter. “Many, if not most, school employees had no say in the matter, yet these community heroes have faithfully staffed our campuses every day, even as case counts soared.”

At the Judson ISD board on Dec. 18, Cortez said the state needs to protect public schools because they are the “backbone of every community.”

“The first person that most of our students are going to come in contact with is going to be the school bus driver, and then they’re going to walk into the cafeteria and have breakfast,” he said. “What about them?”

A San Antonio ISD bus driver transports middle school students following a school day. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

When teachers and other school staff receive the vaccine will depend on vaccine supply and demand, Northside ISD Superintendent Brian Woods said. He did not know anyone who was opposed to vaccinating school workers, especially since state officials consider schools vital to sustaining the economy.

“If staff don’t feel safe coming to school, if we can’t continue to teach kids in school, it’s going to hold back the economic recovery of the state,” he said. “So why wouldn’t you prioritize teachers and other school staff?”

Woods said he would get the vaccine but only after every Northside classroom teacher had the chance to get it.

North East ISD Superintendent Sean Maika said teachers should be prioritized when it comes to distributing the coronavirus vaccine because they are in classrooms every day.

“[Education] Commissioner [Mike] Morath said he couldn’t let a health crisis become an educational crisis,” he said. “I think we’re seeing that it is, with the learning loss and such. If we can protect our teachers so they feel safe in classrooms, then it’s a huge step in the right direction.”

Abbott agreed at a press conference on Dec. 17 that teachers should be among the first to be vaccinated as it becomes widely available in the coming weeks and months, the Texas Tribune reported. But he stopped short of saying when they would be able to receive the vaccine.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel recommended Sunday that teachers, support staff, day care workers, and grocery store workers receive a COVID-19 vaccine after front line health care workers and long-term care facility staff and residents.

Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum is the San Antonio Report's education reporter.