The Palm Beach Post | by Sonja Isger | January 14, 2021
Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy has added his voice to the education leaders statewide asking Gov. Ron DeSantis give school employees priority when it comes to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
But Fennoy also lamented in a school board meeting Wednesday that beyond applying political pressure, little more can be done while Florida and indeed the nation wrestle with supply gaps.
“Right now the Governor’s stance is very clear, our residents that are 65 and older are first priority. But our biggest issue is supply,” Fennoy said at a workshop Wednesday.
Fennoy said that the district has had a seat at the table with Dr. Alina Alonso, Palm Beach County’s health director, as well as county and city officials to have a say in any vaccine rollout. There, they’ve discussed using schools as vaccination sites and nurses to assist in delivery, details of which he said would come at next week’s regular board meeting.
In his letter to DeSantis, Fennoy referenced the governor’s push to keep all schools open to in-person learning and steer students away from remote learning and back into seats on campus.
“With this in mind, I am respectfully making an important request on behalf of the educators whose dedication allows our campuses to remain open. I am appealing to you to authorize that all school district employees be classified as essential workers with regard to COVID-19 vaccine distribution, thereby giving our employees priority to receive immunization.
“If personnel, particularly those who have direct student contact are given this designation, that will allow our schools to remain open and ensure continuous operation, so we can continue to safely serve our students, families, and communities,” Fennoy wrote in a letter dated Tuesday, Jan. 12.
DeSantis has prioritized everyone 65 years old and older and those with underlying health conditions over essential workers. (About 460 of the district’s roughly 13,000 teachers fit that age demographic.)
When asked at a press conference this month if educators would be the next demographic in line, DeSantis said, “Not at this time.”
Since then, the Florida Education Association and various school boards have lobbied to change his mind.
School board members applauded Fennoy for adding to the chorus. They also wanted to be clear the push isn’t only for teachers, but for bus drivers and lunch ladies who interact with students daily.
“We are the largest employer in Palm Beach County and we need to have priority with the vaccine for our staff,” said board member Marcia Andrews.
Board member Erica Whitfield agreed, “This is a high priority. It’s good for our economy to keep schools open.”
Both the board and the president of the local teachers union also wanted to see a plan developed for the day when vaccines are available to staff.
“Other school districts are developing vaccination plans for their districts,” said Classroom Teachers Association President Justin Katz. “Better to have a plan and not need it rather than to need one and not have it.”
Katz thanked Fennoy for the letter. “We all want schools to be open…this (vaccine) is the silver bullet to get to that.”
Photo: Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy outside the school district headquarters in West Palm Beach, Florida on January 13, 2021. Greg Lovett/The Palm Beach Post