With help from Andrew Atterbury and Michael Stratford
Editor’s Note: Welcome to Weekly Education: Coronavirus special edition. Each week, we will explore how the pandemic is reshaping and upending education as we know it across the country, from pre-K through grad school. We will explore the debates of the day, new challenges and talk to movers and shakers about whether changes ushered in now are here to stay.
This newsletter is a weekly version of POLITICO Pro’s daily Education policy newsletter, Morning Education. POLITICO Pro is a policy intelligence platform that combines the news you need with tools you can use to take action on the day’s biggest stories. Act on the news with POLITICO Pro.
READING, WRITING AND VACCINES: The nation’s K-12 public schools are often equipped with spacious gymnasiums and big parking lots, and many have full- or part-time nurses. They are located in communities and can accommodate football games and graduation ceremonies. So why not use schools as vaccination sites?
— It’s a question education groups are asking as the federal government aims to get more shots into arms and kids into classrooms. The race against time isn’t lost on education leaders as variants of the virus emerge and learning loss continues with many kids still stuck at home, learning virtually. School vaccination sites come with challenges, but some districts are already moving forward, helping deliver vaccines.
— “The whole vision that we cast for the county is that high schools could be the hub of vaccinations,” said Chad Gestson, superintendent of the Phoenix Union High School District, which hosted a vaccination event for educators last month as a first step.
IT’S MONDAY, FEB. 8. WELCOME TO MORNING EDUCATION. President Joe Biden, in a CBS News interview with Norah O’Donnell that aired Sunday, said the CDC will issue guidance on minimum requirements for reopening schools “as early as Wednesday.” Our Juan Perez Jr. reported Friday that the Education Department is launching a national survey to better understand the status of in-person learning at schools.
Please send tips to your host at [email protected] or to my colleagues, Juan Perez Jr. at [email protected], Michael Stratford at [email protected] and Bianca Quilantan at [email protected]. And follow us on Twitter: @Morning_Edu and @POLITICOPro.
ANOTHER SHOT AT DISTRIBUTION: The Biden administration is pushing to get at least 100 million shots administered in 100 days. FEMA has obligated nearly $2 billion to states, tribes, territories and D.C. for community vaccination centers, and as of Thursday, there were 175 federally supported vaccine centers operational across the country. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris today will virtually tour the State Farm Stadium vaccination site in Glendale, Ariz., according to his schedule. Last week, the administration announced a plan to begin shipping vaccine doses directly to pharmacies.
— Biden last month said he wanted FEMA to set up more vaccination sites in “convenient and accessible” places such as school gymnasiums, sports stadiums and community centers. But state, tribal and territorial governments select the sites, according to FEMA.
— Since vaccine supply has been so constrained, involving schools in vaccine distribution has been “a bit of an afterthought” for some state leaders, and that’s a mistake, said Mike Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change. Governors and health departments should already be working with school systems to plan for mass vaccinations as soon as supply increases.
— “We would certainly appreciate it if the President made this a point of emphasis, because I think states are looking for guidance about how they can surge capacity as supply surges,” Magee said.
THE CASE FOR SCHOOL SITES: Some 12,000 school buildings located in every major city could be used as vaccination sites, rather than centralized sites or sparsely located hospitals, The Council of the Great City Schools, which includes 76 of the largest urban public-school systems, wrote in a Jan. 22 letter to Biden.
— The letter touts urban schools’ all-purpose rooms for vaccinations, smaller rooms for observation sites, buses for transportation or mobile vaccination facilities, communication systems, custodians, information technology staff and school nurses. The schools are often used for Covid-19 testing. “Concerns about equity and access are helped by using facilities that are already there, sometimes in very poor communities,” said Michael Casserly, the group’s executive director, who detailed the proposal in a meeting with White House Covid team members on Friday.
— The American Federation of Teachers has recommended using some schools as vaccination sites, as they were used to help eliminate polio, AFT President Randi Weingarten said. “To do that with Covid, you need to implement complex storage and handling practices which takes infrastructure, organization, leadership and most importantly, resources,” she said. “We can also make schools distribution hubs to consolidate supplies and push the vaccine out to secondary access points.”
— There is precedent for school vaccination sites, said Laurie Combe, president of the National Association of School Nurses. During the H1N1 outbreak, the school district where she worked in Texas partnered with Harris County Public Health to vaccinate members of the general public on weekends at strategically located schools. “Frankly, I’ve been a bit surprised that we haven’t used that method,” she said. Vaccine access is proving difficult, she noted, and when schools or even church communities are used for distribution, “then you’re right there in neighborhoods where families are.”
— Not all schools will have appropriate refrigeration equipment for the vaccines, she said, but they are prime locations for partnerships with public health providers or large hospitals.
‘WE ARE HAPPY TO TAKE THE LEAD’: School systems across the country are partnering with local health departments or hospitals to get staff vaccinated, and some are hosting the events for educators or community members.
— Teachers aren’t eligible yet for the vaccine in Alaska, so the Anchorage School District health services team is helping speed the process, offering free vaccinations in the ASD Education Center for Alaska health care workers and seniors. The Los Angeles Unified School District and county officials also agreed to use school sites to provide vaccinations to all community members, they wrote in a letter to Biden, asking for an additional allotment of doses.
— Once educators are eligible, the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System in Tennessee plans to vaccinate employees at a high school, with support from Tennessee College of Applied Technology students.
— The event Phoenix Union High School District hosted at four high schools last month, in partnership with the county health department and pharmacies, drew 7,000 district staff members and other educators working in the county. The second dose will be administered at a similar event this month.
— “We have made it widely known here in Phoenix and in Maricopa County that when vaccines become available to the general public … that we are happy to take the lead on community vaccinations, as well, using the same setup,” Gestson said.
HOW PHOENIX ‘#SPREADLOVENOTCOVID’: Gestson rattled off a long list of considerations for hosting a large vaccination event: parking, traffic control, volunteers, stations, tents, cones, communications, registration links, frequently asked questions, troubleshooting. The marketing campaign used #SpreadLoveNotCovid. “It is a lot of work. It’s event planning, but it is absolutely worth it,” he said.
— For two days, educators working in the county at both public and private schools received the Moderna vaccine at four Phoenix Union high schools. Pharmacists brought the vaccines to the sites and administered them. School nurses manned the post-vaccine observation station. There was a walk-in option, but most vaccinations were done via drive-through.
— The district’s high schools are only open to small numbers of students at the moment. “We are hoping this is a big part of the return process for us,” he said.
YOUR MOVE, GOVERNOR: Last month, some 800 educators and school employees in Lake County showed up to a local high school gymnasium to receive their Covid-19 vaccinations, our Andrew Atterbury writes us from POLITICO’s Florida bureau. A partnership between the Florida Department of Health and local officials made the event happen, helping scores of staffers who are 65 and older obtain some protection from the coronavirus.
— As Florida continues to roll out its vaccine plan, top education leaders say efforts like these show that the state should lean on schools more to help lead efforts to vaccinate not just teachers, but entire communities. Robert Runcie, superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, has been the most outspoken about the issue in Florida, pushing for state policymakers to use school buildings and employees in the network of vaccine delivery.
— “The sensible thing in this country is to prioritize our teachers and our staff getting the vaccine, and leveraging our school sites as a solution in the distribution chain for the vaccine,” Runcie said during a Chiefs for Change virtual press conference on Jan. 13.
— While Runcie and other school leaders are ready and willing to host vaccination sites, the final authority rests with Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state health department. And to that end, the Republican governor has given no indication that schools are part of his vaccination strategy going forward.
— All the while, teachers unions and school districts have been lobbying DeSantis to include educators and school personnel to the priority vaccination list. That continues to be a pressing issue in Florida, where the bulk of vaccines currently are reserved for residents 65 and older.
— “Let’s show [teachers and frontline school employees] how much they are valued by officially identifying them as ‘essential employees’ and doing everything we can to protect them as soon as possible so they are equipped to continue the important work that they perform with our children every day,” the Lake County School Board wrote in a letter to DeSantis.
TRAINING SCHOOL NURSES: Another selling point that the Council of the Great City Schools touted for school vaccination sites is the 10,000 or so school nurses at big city schools, who could help administer vaccines “with some modest training from their local hospitals.”
— Combe, however, noted that about a quarter of all public and private schools in the country don’t have a school nurse and about 35 percent have a part-time school nurse, who more than likely covers multiple schools. In rural America, those schools may be separated by long distances. Where they are working, they’re surveilling for Covid-19 symptoms, isolating and monitoring presumptive cases and recommending when to quarantine along with tending daily to chronic health issues. School nurses in some states are handling Covid testing and contact tracing, she said.
— “Where those vaccination clinics could happen, we need to be clear about what workload a school nurse can take on and still provide safe care for all the students … and staff,” she said. “Those clinics might be most effectively managed in partnership with community providers, such as public health departments or medical facilities.”
— Career Education Colleges and Universities is out with a new analysis of how its members used federal Covid relief funds last year.
— CTU reviewing potential agreement with CPS that could avert lockouts, strike: Chicago Sun-Times
— Education secretary nominee urges aspiring Latinos school leaders to lean on their ‘superpower’: KSL.com
— Democrats try to shoehorn major child poverty reduction plan into Covid bill: POLITICO Pro
— Utah school allowing parents to opt students out of Black History Month curriculum: The Hill
— Tar Heels fans flood streets after UNC beats Duke despite Covid-19 protocols: Sports Illustrated