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Kandis Ruspoli, left, a fourth-grade teacher with Widefield School District 3, and Jennifer West, a music teacher with the district, join other members of the Pikes Peak Education Association during a protest in July outside Centennial Hall during the El Paso County commissioners’ Public Health board meeting in downtown Colorado Springs. Members of the association that represents educators in the region were also inside speaking to the commissioners about how to safely open the school year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Colorado prepares to begin its months-long effort to distribute the coronavirus vaccine, the state's education association wants educators to get moved further up the priority ladder.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jared Polis and state health officials unveiled who will get the vaccine and in which order. "School staff" are in the second group, which will receive vaccines sometime in the spring. While that's better than the lowest group, which won't be inoculated until the summer, it's still too vague and delayed, the head of the education association said Thursday.

"We do believe that educators need to be higher in the prioritization list, especially if we want to prioritize in-person learning," said Amie Baca-Oehlert, the organization's president. "We absolutely believe that access to the vaccine is a key component to getting more stability in in-person learning."

School districts across Colorado have moved fully online amid this latest spike. Officials have said that transmission within schools is rare. But community spread was so rampant that teachers either became ill themselves or had to quarantine, which disrupted school and was the primary factor in many districts moving online. Baca-Oehlert said that vaccinating school personnel sooner could alleviate that pressure and help keep schools open.

She said educators have already had conversations with Polis and state officials about giving more priority to teachers. But she said those conversations and CEA's position hadn't "nuanced" to wanting a specific prioritization yet. But generally, the organization wants teachers to be given special priority within that spring group.

"In most of our communities, the school district is the largest employer," Baca-Oehlert said. "That's a large number of people, one, and two, because we're educating students, and in order to get to a place where we can prioritize in-person learning, we believe that the vaccine is a key component to that." 

The National Education Association shares those sentiments. In a statement and resolution earlier this month, the organization called on "the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as state and local governments to prioritize educators for early access to COVID-19 vaccines." 

The national group also called on state legislatures to minimize which students could receive vaccine waivers, limiting them to only "those necessary due to documented medical conditions."

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes 'people who work in educational settings' as a group at 'increased risk of acquiring or transmitting COVID-19' and thus one of the critical populations that should receive priority in initial phases when vaccine supply is limited," the group wrote.

Baca-Oehlert said that decisions are still being made about exact priorities within phase and that the timeline released Wednesday was "still subject to change based on supply chain and science and availability." 

Vaccine availability statewide will be significantly limited for several months, officials have said. Initial shipments of the vaccine will number in the tens of thousands, and the winter will be spent distributing those inoculations to health care workers and residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities. 

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