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Washington outlines plans for vaccinating teachers

Older teachers and those with health risks could be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine by February. But not all teachers are in this group.

SEATTLE — One of the next groups to get COVID-19 vaccinations in Washington is teachers who are at higher risk of getting sick.

Starting in February, K-12 teachers and staff who are 50 or older and work around kids in schools will be eligible to get COVID vaccines, the Department of Health announced Wednesday.

The announcement is a relief for educators, but it won’t mean students will return to their classrooms right away.

"We are relieved that school employees and other frontline workers will receive priority access to the COVID vaccine. The COVID vaccine is one essential tool in preventing infections and is a critical part of a larger strategy to keep students and educators safe,” the Washington Education Association said in a statement.

Teachers unions and districts must agree to certain COVID safety precautions, like smaller classes, masking, and improved ventilation before in-person learning resumes.

Some districts are not waiting for the vaccine and already starting to bring kids back to their desks.

Starting next week, kindergarten and first-grade students in the Puyallup School District will return to their classrooms two days a week.

Bellingham Public Schools will also bring some younger students back to in-person learning this month.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who will join the Biden administration as chief medical advisor, said vaccinations will be an essential step toward re-opening schools.

“It's extremely important to get children back into school and kept in school and the idea of vaccinating teachers is very high up in the priority,” he said in a December interview.

Teachers and school staff under the age of 50 will be eligible for COVID vaccines in April, the Washington State Department of Health said.

Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau sent a letter to Gov. Inslee, as well as state and local health officials, Friday, urging them to include all educators and school staff involved with in-person instruction in the vaccination phase which currently prioritizes people 50 and over.

“It does not make sense to have an age limit of ‘over 50’ for educational professionals. Our top priority must be to keep our staff, students, and communities physically safe, as well as mentally and academically healthy,” Juneau wrote.

She also offered SPS buildings as possible vaccination sites for district staff and "the larger community."

SPS plans to resume in-person instruction for approximately 10,000 of its youngest students on March 1.