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Health, Science & Environment

Teachers To Receive Vaccine This Week, But It May Not Help Salt Lake City District

A photo of small bottles labeled 'COVID-19 Vaccine' and a needle.
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iStockphoto
The Salt Lake CIty School District received 800 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine this week, enough for almost 25% of its staff.

It didn’t happen as quickly as originally planned, but vaccinations for Utah’s public school teachers and staff are starting this week. The rollout prioritizes educators by age group, starting with the oldest, though does not take other health concerns into account.

The new timeline, however, might not be fast enough for Salt Lake City teachers to get a $1,500 state bonus. State lawmakers have been withholding the stipend for teachers and staff in the district unless it opens for in-person classes by Feb. 8 — a date first agreed upon when it seemed educators would be vaccinated before then.

District officials said Monday they received 800 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which is enough for nearly 25% of the staff. But it could still take anywhere from a few weeks to two months for the entire staff to get the two doses required.

James Tobler, a high school teacher in the district and president of the Salt Lake Education Association, said he’d love to get the bonus. But if it means having to reopen before he has the vaccine, he’d rather wait.

“Obviously, we would appreciate the bonus,” he said. “Teachers have worked harder than any other year. It's been more stressful than any other year. But if that's the position the legislature is going to take, that's very unfortunate in my mind that they would do that.”

The district is still moving ahead with reopening elementary schools, even before all teachers are vaccinated. It approved the plan in November, after data showed elementary schools in other districts were not as prone to COVID-19 outbreaks as middle and high schools.

That means Heather Blakley, a 6th grade teacher at Rose Park Elementary, might have to return before she gets a shot. And possibly without a bonus.

“The biggest problem I have is that the state said every district needs to create their own plan based on what is right for them,” she said. “Salt Lake City, being the hot spot of this entire thing since March, has said the best thing that we need to do is be remote. And now the state has come back and said, well, that's not what we want you to be doing. And so it feels to us as if we're being blackmailed.”

A spokesman for the Utah House of Representatives said Monday lawmakers haven’t decided yet if elementary teachers in the district might be eligible for the bonus. Republican House Speaker Brad Wilson, who led negotiations with the district, will make a decision later this week.

The bonuses have also not been officially approved yet. That may or may not happen when lawmakers vote on the state’s base budget later this month.

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