Tennessee’s teachers moved up the list for the COVID-19 vaccine last week, just behind frontline health care workers in the state’s distribution plan.

When educators will actually be able to receive the vaccine is still unclear, but the Tennessee Department of Health estimates it could be in February or March. The decision moves them ahead of adults with high-risk conditions and other critical infrastructure workers.

“It has to do with risk to our society and economy,” Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said during a news briefing. “When children are in school, their societal and economic impact is strengthened, when they are educated and when they are more literate. So we want to do it for children, we want to do it for parents, in order to have kids in school so parents can go to work.”

Wilson County Schools and the Lebanon Special School District have tried to avoid closing schools throughout the pandemic similar reasons, but both are entering 2021 on fully remote learning plans.

“The case numbers countywide, as well as the state COVID numbers and data, are higher than they’ve ever been,” LSSD Director of Schools Scott Benson said. “We’ve been setting records every day, hospitals are running over and for most people it’s hitting closer to home than ever before.”

WCS moved to remote learning early in December, but LSSD is shifting onto the schedule for the first time. Benson hopes to see a return to hybrid learning on Jan. 25.

“I think moving up the vaccinations is necessary,” he said. “It could only benefit us, and I would imagine many of our teachers would want to do that. I’ve heard from several who would. We’ve been asked if we’ll require it, but we’re planning to treat it like the flu shot and educate and encourage based on the data.”

At press time, Benson has not been contacted by state officials about a localized vaccination plan for educators. WCS Public Information Officer Bart Barker said Director of Schools Donna Wright expects to have more concrete information this week.

In the meantime, WCS plans to stay in remote learning through Jan. 15 at a minimum.

“The reason is due to the continued rise in COVID-19 cases in our area, and the extremely high level of concern for health and safety following the most recent health data,” Barker said in a press release. “On Wednesday, Jan. 13, a reevaluation of health metrics will determine how we will proceed for the following school week, which will begin on Tuesday, Jan. 19.”

Families who need food assistance until then can email any of WCS’ cafeteria managers through https://www.wcschools.com/Page/1435 and arrange a drive-thru meal pickup between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. Parking lots at each school have also been made available as hotspots for families without reliable internet access.

At press time, LSSD plans to roll out its own feeding plan and other information to families in the coming days. The goal is to avoid exposing teachers and students to a projected Christmas surge in COVID-19 cases.

“If we can’t have learning and we can’t have school employees, we can’t have school,” Benson said. “And there’s no other profession besides health care workers with a higher exposure risk.”

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