TPS Official Cautiously Optimistic Teachers, Staff Could Receive First Vaccinations This Month

Jan 5, 2021

A Tulsa Public Schools administrator on Monday said there's tentative reason to hope teachers and other school staff could begin receiving their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of January.

Chief Operations Officer Jorge Robles said at a TPS Board of Education meeting that a lot is still up in the air, but that was floated as a possibility in conversations with Tulsa Health Department officials.

When the state announced last month that educators and support staff would be bumped up from phase three to phase two of Oklahoma's vaccination priority plan, they were still placed behind several other phase two subgroups.

"There isn't a specific timeframe yet for educators in phase two," Robles said. "After first responders is the group of 65-and-olders that are prioritized within the sequence. So their expectation -- and this is dependent on the availability of vaccine -- is that later in January, toward the end of January, is when we would be able to start vaccinating our team members in the schools."

In a statement posted Tuesday afternoon, THD said, "There is no list for people to get on to be included in Phase 2 vaccine distribution. We will provide information on our website and social media as we move through the various populations to let people know what they need to do when the time comes." 

As of Tuesday afternoon, the department's website listed "Teachers and staff in Pre-K-12 schools and educational settings" as a group for whom the vaccine is "not available at this time" on a page listing which subgroups can schedule appointments.

Robles said the district and the health department are working to streamline vaccinations when the doses become available using something similar to THD's Caring Vans, which typically are deployed to administer flu and other immunizations.

TPS is set to attempt again to bring students back for in-person learning beginning on Jan. 25 with pre-K through third graders, after starting to do so last year ended up in an abrupt reversal to distance learning due to infection rates and staffing issues. Robles said trends are in flux due to a drop in testing and general lag in reporting over the holiday break, and it's currently too far out to predict whether things will go forward as planned.

Gov. Kevin Stitt faced pressure from educators and associations to move teachers and school staff up in the priority list. His announcement that he would do so came packaged with pressure on districts across Oklahoma, all of which he has repeatedly said he wants to ensure offer in-person learning this year.

TPS Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist expressed appreciation for the move at the time, but on Monday Tweeted, "Here is a question for [the Oklahoma State Department of Health]. If our teachers were moved to the bottom of vaccine tier 2 to be distributed in priority order, what actually changed when [Gov. Stitt] moved teachers/support teams from tier 3 to tier 2?"

The tweet closed with two hashtags: #studentsneedtobesafelyinschool and #letsgetthemthereOK.