With about half of teachers and staff offered a vaccine so far, Chicago Public Schools is in “a really good position” to achieve President Joe Biden’s goal of giving at least one dose to every school worker by the end of March, schools chief Janice Jackson said Thursday.
More than 19,000 CPS employees have had an opportunity for a COVID-19 shot through either partnerships between the district and health care providers or the four CPS-run vaccination site across the city. Potentially thousands more have had access through appointments with private health care providers or pharmacies they sought out on their own.
Jackson said it’s “amazing” that about half the district has been offered a vaccine, and she has “no doubt that we’re going to be able to meet” the end-of-the-month goal with new supply coming in.
“We’re going to work hard to meet it,” Jackson said in an interview Thursday at Kershaw Elementary in Englewood. “I think, first of all, I’m excited that [Biden] made that declaration publicly. Chicago Public Schools was already moving along nicely with our agreement with [the Chicago Teachers Union] to get people vaccinated.”
The new Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a “game-changer” in the city’s vaccination efforts, Jackson said, as are expanded opportunities at the federally run United Center site and county locations.
“I think we’re in a really good position to meet that goal,” Jackson said.
A little over 15,000 of those vaccination opportunities offered by CPS have come at the district-run sites. About 8,000 appointments have either been scheduled or are in the process of being scheduled at those sites over the next few weeks. Another 5,000 appointments have been granted through CPS partnerships with private providers.
Almost 3,100 shots have been administered so far at the CPS vaccination centers, but the district doesn’t know exactly how many workers have received inoculations through those partnerships or on their own privately. The Board of Education approved a new policy last month that will allow officials to track progress by requiring employees to disclose their vaccination status, but those efforts aren’t yet underway.
As the district begins negotiations with the CTU this week on high school reopening, vaccinations for all teachers and staff will likely be a prerequisite for any plan the CTU signs off on. While younger students have been found to be less likely to transmit the virus, studies have shown teenagers are as contagious as adults.
CTU President Jesse Sharkey said in an interview this week he was also pleased with Biden’s comments, but he was frustrated that CPS doesn’t yet know how many workers have received a shot.
If every teacher and staff member who wants a vaccine gets one over the next few weeks, though, Sharkey said he has no problem with the district requiring teachers to return to in-person work for the fourth academic quarter starting April 19 — even some of those who had received a work-from-home accommodation that expires at the end of the third quarter.
The district granted 5,800 accommodations to the 20,700 teachers and staff in preschool through eighth grade and special education cluster programs. Those exceptions included 3,750 teachers — meaning one-third of the 10,800 teachers in those grades and programs are working from home. Every CPS worker who personally has a medical condition that makes them vulnerable to COVID-19 and asked to work from home was allowed to do so, officials have said, plus hundreds who live with a medically vulnerable household member.
“Provided it’s medically OK, if somebody gets vaccinated, yeah they should teach in-person if there’s a need for that,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a problem.”
Sharkey said “it’s a little bit more complicated” if a teacher received an accommodation for a household member who isn’t vaccinated because there is a risk in bringing the virus home since it’s not known yet whether vaccinations prevent transmission.
Jackson said she expects vaccinations will help fill any staffing shortages once the fourth quarter starts next month.
“I think our staffing is going to be better because a lot of the accommodations are related to people with medical conditions, and the fact that we’ve been vaccinating people at such a fast clip, I think that that’s going to really help us,” she said. “I know principals should expect to have even more staffing because we are getting people vaccine and therefore will be able to ask them to come back to work.”