N.C. Association of Educators wants teachers vaccinated before schools reopen

Tamika Walker Kelly

North Carolina must vaccinate teachers before asking them to return to classrooms for in-person instruction, the N.C. Association of Educators said Monday.

“Educators are the epitome of essential, front line workers, and getting them vaccinated is the most critical step to restarting in-person instruction statewide,” said Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the teacher advocacy organization. “Twenty-three other states are vaccinating educators right now, and we should be among them.”

The call to prioritize teacher vaccinations came during a NCAE press conference held by the organization to share its 2021 legislative agenda.

Walker said school districts must also adhere to safety protocols such as social distancing and requiring masks as outlined by the ABC Science Collaborative and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC and the Science Collaborative have issued reports saying schools can reopen if safety protocols are followed.

Walker Kelly said educator input on school re-openings is critical.

“As we start to move back toward in-person instruction, we need educators at the table to play a significant part in devising the best methods to do so,” Walker Kelly said. “For our part, NCAE stands ready not only to lend our assistance at the local level, but also to bring the significant resources and expertise of the National Education Association to bear on crafting safe, effective, and efficient reopening plans.”

The call for prioritizing teachers in state vaccinations comes as Republican lawmakers prepare to introduce legislation to require schools to reopen for in-person instruction.

Senate Leader Phil Berger said in a press release last week that the legislation would require districts to operate in-person in “some capacity” but also provide parents with an all-virtual learning option.

Acknowledging the pandemic’s negative impact on children and schools, Walker Kelly announced plans Monday to visit the state’s 100 counties as part of its “We Heart Public Schools Tour.” The tour begins this month and will run through June.

“While public school students and educators have been battered by COVID over the past year, we have remained resilient, Walker Kelly said. “We want to highlight those amazing stories of perseverance and success in the face of adversity that have been taking place throughout the state, and connect with those parents, students, and educators who can tell those stories best.”

Legislative priorities announced by the NCAE include:

  • Increasing the minimum wage for all Education Support Professionals to $15 an hour, equal to the minimum wage paid all other state employees.
  • A comprehensive and professional reform of all educators’ salaries based on education and experience, including annual retiree COLAs.
  • A moratorium on any increase in school voucher funding, and legislation to require stricter  academic and financial accountability and more transparency.
  • Fully funding Leandro to begin addressing the constitutional requirements of providing academic resources and support for our poorest students, guaranteeing their academic success.
  • Restore full longevity and master’s degree pay for all teachers and school-based administrators to help to recruit and retain high-quality educators for our students.
  • Expand Medicaid to increase medical support for exceptional public school students, low-income family members of students, and North Carolinian’s most vulnerable citizens.
  • Increase funding to hire additional teacher assistants, school nurses, counselors, social workers, and psychologists to address the many mental and emotional challenges our students are facing daily due to COVID-19 while meeting all staffing requirements based on national standards.
  • Increase the academic and financial accountability and transparency of all charter schools.
  • Restore state health benefits for all public school “new hires” (including state employees) when they retire, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2021 to help to attract the best and brightest educators to work in our state.
  • Expand the state’s rural broadband initiative to bring high-speed internet access to students and educators throughout the state, and provide additional funding for digital resources.
  • Elimination state-mandated end-of-course testing, unless federally required, and rely more on multiple measures of student growth. NCAE advocates against using the A-F school grading system. Other indicators should be used to identify school progress and success.
  • Provide paid family and medical leave for all  employees to take time off from work when medical emergencies arise without facing economic hardship.

“We know what we are requesting here is not insignificant,” Walker Kelly said. “It will all require additional funding, but if we are to reach our mutual goal of reopening our schools, that is what is necessary.”

Walker Kelly took aim at House Bill 32, which would expand access to Opportunity Scholarships or school vouchers awarded to students to attend private schools. Rep. Dean Arp, a Union County Republican, introduced the bill.

Kelly called the bill “ill-timed” and “grotesquely opportunistic.”

“Our publicly funded, publicly owned schools need resources, and to divert even more of these funds to private institutions at this critical time is particularly tone deaf and destructive,” Kelly said.

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