Teachers should be at the 'front of the line' for vaccines: SF leaders

San Francisco leaders want teachers and public school educators to be at the "front of the line" right after health care workers, for a COVID-19 vaccine.

San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen proposed a resolution this week calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom and state health officials to prioritize teachers as essential workers, making them eligible for the first phase of coronavirus vaccines in early 2021.

"Many children don't have a reliable internet connection, and for young children, they really can't learn from a screen unless they have an adult by their side," Ronen said. "Families all across San Francisco are in absolute crisis."

San Francisco Unified School District's 52,000 students have been doing online-only learning since March.

Ronen said many students have stopped checking in online and are falling behind.

"This crisis is going to make the achievement gap a canyon," she said.

Susan Solomon, president of United Educators of San Francisco, the San Francisco teachers union, said the union is working closely with Supervisor Ronen on the resolution to make sure "that all necessary details are included."

The resolution also calls for the priority vaccination of school "support staff". Solomon said that would include custodians, clerks, cafeteria workers and administrators, and that they would need to be vaccinated as well to safely re-open schools.

Ronen said that school re-openings could be phased-in, with educators for the youngest learners getting the vaccine, first.

"If we can inoculate all of the adults - say let's start with the elementary schools - then those can be really safe places for children to go back and learn and start undoing the damage that has occurred to their education over the last nine months," she said. "I've talked to so many parents in my district whose children are having emotional problems they've never seen before, wetting the bed at older ages, having to chew on something in order to concentrate online. The impact on an entire generation cannot be understated."

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will have a hearing on this resolution next week. If the full board approves it, it would go to the Governor's office by Dec. 15. The resolution is not binding, meaning the Governor and state health officials could just ignore it, but Ronen hopes it sends an urgent message to Gov. Newsom about prioritizing public education.

"While other countries like France and England have shut down the entire country with the exception of schools," Ronene said. "Here in California it feels like schools have been one of the last priorities and it's simply outrageous. We have to fix this."