As Chicago Public Schools officials debate with the Chicago Teachers Union the role of vaccines in reopening schools, teachers at a North Side private school and some suburban districts are lining up for their shots this week.
The task of administering inoculations at smaller schools and districts is no comparison to CPS, the city’s second-largest employer after the federal government. But with the vaccine rollout already moving forward elsewhere, the issue has become a flash point in heated discussions.
Francis Parker, the prestigious Lincoln Park private school, is allowing all 200 staff members to register for COVID-19 vaccinations starting this week, tapping into a batch of doses set aside for the school.
“Fortunately, Parker has partnered with a local health care provider who has indicated they will have sufficient vaccine to accommodate all Parker employees,” the school’s nurse wrote in a message to teachers and families. “All Parker employees are strongly encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity.”
In suburban Skokie, the health department has been working with the school district to prioritize educators for shots — some even before this week. Though Skokie School District 68 hasn’t yet set a reopening date, the head start on vaccinations could help once the time comes.
Deerfield District 109, home to six elementary and middle schools, is partnering with Walgreens to administer shots
Bruce Law, the superintendent at Deerfield’s Township High School District 113, told his school communities last week that he is trying to include the district’s teachers in the Walgreens program. Otherwise District 113 staff may have to wait until Feb. 1 to begin scheduling appointments for shots at a local high school, with shots to follow in mid-February.
Some parents in that district have pushed the superintendent to reopen schools immediately, even before teachers are vaccinated.
CPS officials announced on Friday that the district would begin vaccinating its teachers in mid-February. Officials said they expect the district to receive its own supply of vaccine and will start offering inoculations to its teachers at four sites across the city.
Educators in Illinois have been eligible since Monday to receive vaccinations and could get one from their private health care provider or a local pharmacy.
But some CPS teachers who made appointments to get vaccines with the city had their appointments canceled over the weekend after they used a code sent to them by principals across the city that was actually designated for home health care workers.
“Therefore, all appointments that were made on these days for individuals who checked ‘other’ under occupation, rather than ‘healthcare worker’, will be canceled,” teachers were told in emails.
One teacher, who learned of the code in a Facebook group, said her mind was put at ease when she got appointment for the weekend, in advance of the scheduled return to schools. But then, “we all got canceled. It’s stressful and crazy.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, asked Tuesday why CPS hasn’t moved teachers to the front of the line like other districts, said “we also have others who have been out there every single day, working, putting themselves at risk. And we have to also prioritize some of those folks as well.”
“How do we say to those folks, ‘You have to go to the back of the line?’” she asked. “We want to prioritize teachers, we will prioritize teachers. But we have to do it in the context of … those jobs that are at highest-risk. That is the fair and equitable thing to do, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Teachers in some other states — including Utah and New York — started getting vaccines earlier this month.