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Wichita teachers prepare to welcome students back as they wait for vaccine

Published: Jan. 12, 2021 at 11:13 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Elementary school students in Wichita Public Schools return to the classroom Wednesday (Jan. 13) with students in the district’s middle schools and high schools starting a blended schedule in about two weeks that will have groups of students meeting in-person two days per week. All of this will happen before teachers can get vaccinated against COVID-19.

While Wichita teachers who spoke with Eyewitness News Tuesday said they are ready to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the Sedgwick County Health Department says a shortage of vaccine doses in the state will delay that process.

Wichita Northwest High School teacher Jennifer Pickler said Tuesday’s news from the county of a shortage of COVID-19 vaccine doses is frustrating news as surrounding states move into Phase Two of vaccine distribution, the phase that includes teachers.

“We need the vaccine. We are worried and want to feel protected, and it’s really frustrating we aren’t higher on the priority list at this point,” Pickler said.

United Teachers of Wichita Union President Kimberly Howard said many teachers she’s talked with say they will feel safer returning to the classroom after being vaccinated.

“We are still very concerned about putting our staff back in those elementary buildings,” she said. “When we went full remote at the end of November, it was because of our staff quarantine numbers, which yes, are lower now. It’s at 600 on Friday, but we know bringing adults back in the building, it will raise them again.”

The current plan calls for teachers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Phase Two of the rollout plan, after people who are 65 and older, and first responders. Sedgwick County Health Director Adrienne Byrne said she’s hopeful Phase Two can begin before the end of January.

“We already have been talking with at least Wichita and Derby about them having the vaccine and vaccinating their teachers and staff,” Byrne said.

For now, Byrne said there is no date on when the county will get more COVID-19 vaccine doses and it cannot move into the next phase (Phase Two) until more doses are available.

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