Five Linn County school superintendents ask Gov. Reynolds to prioritize vaccinating school staff

A healthcare worker administers a vaccination — photo by Lance McCord via Flickr Creative Commons

Five Linn County school superintendents sent a joint letter to Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday asking for additional COVID-19 vaccine doses to be allocated to the state’s priority populations in light of the Feb. 15 deadline for school districts to provide all in-person instruction.

The superintendents ask state officials to reallocate 64,000 doses of vaccine from the long-term care pharmacy partnership program to the state’s priority populations, which includes K-12 school staff.

The letter was addressed to Reynolds, Department of Human Services Director Kelly Garcia and Department of Education Director Ann Lebo. It was signed by Cedar Rapids Superintendent Noreen Bush, College Community Superintendent Douglas Wheeler, Marion Superintendent Janelle Brouwer, Linn-Mar Superintendent Shannon Bisgard and Xavier Catholic Schools Superintendent Kim Hermsen.

“With the February 15, 2021, deadline for 100% in-person learning option fast approaching, you have shown the public that returning students to fully in-person instruction is a state priority,” the five superintendents said in the letter. “In this context and on behalf of our 6,365 metro area educational employees, we urge you to place full priority on protecting our preK-12 school students, their families and our staff by reallocating these additional doses to immediately vaccinate school staff across the state.” [Emphasis in the original]

Reynolds said at her news conference last week the state was planning to reallocate unused doses of vaccine from the federal government’s partnership with pharmacies that used to vaccinate long-term care facility residents and staff. There’s been no public response to the superintendents’ letter yet, but on Wednesday morning, the Iowa Department of Public Health announced it was reallocating 32,000 doses from the long-term care facility program “to a limited number of Walgreens and CVS stores in select Iowa counties.”

Those doses are “reserved for Iowans age 65 and older.”

The governor signed a bill into law last Friday that requires all school districts to provide 100 percent in-person instruction to students whose parents request it. SF 160 is the first bill Reynolds has signed this legislative session. The Republican leaders of the Iowa House and Senate fast-tracked it, moving it from subcommittee to final passage in five days.

“It’s time to put local control into the hands of parents, where it belongs, so that they can choose what’s best for their children,” Reynolds said before signing SF 160 into law.

Democrats in the Senate proposed amendments to the bill during the floor debate. One would have delayed the implementation of the law until teachers and school staff had been received the COVID-19 vaccine. The Republican majority rejected the amendment.

Iowa is currently in Tier 1 of Phase 1B, which includes K-12 school staff, early childhood education and childcare workers, and child welfare social workers, among other priority groups.

These individuals became eligible to receive their vaccine on Feb. 1, but with how limited the supply of the vaccine is, Linn County public health officials have warned “it may be months” until individuals in the first two phases have received their vaccines.

The five tiers of Phase 1B of vaccine distribution in Iowa. — Iowa Department of Public Health

The 64,000 doses would “allow for every interested school staff member in the state to receive their first vaccination dose before the required, fully in-person compliance deadline,” according to the letter.

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“Since last March, school staff have been at the cornerstone of Iowa communities and our response to this global pandemic,” the superintendents wrote. “All school staff members deserve the ability to be vaccinated before being required by law to return to circumstances in which CDC-recommended social distancing cannot possibly be implemented.”

Various school districts across the state — including Cedar Rapids Community School District and Iowa City Community School District — have been utilizing a hybrid model to provide in-person instruction while also practicing social distancing, since there are less students in the classroom.

But with the new legislation, a number of school districts have announced they plan to stop offering the hybrid model because of practical difficulties.

ICCSD announced it will discontinue the hybrid model because it does not have enough teachers to offer two different tracks of in-person instruction.

In Cedar Rapids, only high school students had the hybrid option. Elementary and middle school students already had an all in-person learning option.

Cedar Rapids Superintendent Bush told the Gazette the district will be adjusting the hybrid model “to accommodate 100 percent in-person learning, keeping safety paramount.”

Update: Select locations of CVS and Walgreens in Linn County will have a limited number of COVID-19 vaccine doses for individuals 65 and older, Linn County Public Health announced on Wednesday.

Beginning Thursday, Feb. 4 at 8 a.m., Iowans age 65 and older can sign up to schedule an appointment at one of three CVS locations in Linn County.

• 3400 Edgewood Road SW, Cedar Rapids

• 1030 Blairs Ferry Road NE, Cedar Rapids

• 3419 16th Avenue SW, Cedar Rapids, Linn County

Individuals must register online or through the CVS Pharmacy app. Those without online access can call customer service at 800-746-7287. Walk-in vaccinations are not available. Step-by-step instructions on how to book an appointment through CVS can be found online.

Select Walgreens stores in Linn County will also have vaccine appointments available starting Wednesday, Feb. 3. Information on how to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine through Walgreens is available online.