Many NC teachers concerned over push to get back to in-person instruction during pandemic

COVID-19 and schools

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – When the Wake County School Board voted to return to in-person learning on Wednesday, the North Carolina Association for Educators (NCAE) said many teachers were concerned.

“Understandably, our educators are concerned and frustrated,” said Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the NCAE. “During this time, we all want to return to in-person learning. We just want to be able to do that safely.”

For Walker Kelly, that’s making sure all teachers who want the COVID-19 vaccine can get it before students return to the classroom. Right now, only people in Phases 1 and 2 of the state’s vaccination plan are eligible to get the vaccine. That includes people 65 and older, health care workers, and long-term care facility residents and staff. Teachers are currently listed in Phase 3, but an online petition to make them immediately eligible for the vaccine has over 13,000 signatures.

“We know that it can happen,” Walker Kelly said of getting the vaccine to teachers. “So we have been calling as the NCAE for DHHS and the governor to use the power of their office to prioritize educators, to set aside a supply for educators to get vaccinated.”

But on Thursday, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said vaccinating teachers isn’t necessary to safely reopen schools.

“I want to be clear that there is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen, and that the safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC.

Still, as the Wake County Public School District and others prepare to welcome students back to school in a few weeks, Walker Kelly worries some teachers may not return.

“We have heard educators decided to leave and go into other jobs that will accommodate their health needs or needs to be safe,” she said of teachers reaching their breaking point during the pandemic. “And it’s unfortunate because, in North Carolina, the teacher pipeline has slowed down tremendously. So we need to do all that we can to respect the educators that we have.”

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