School & District Management

Why Teacher Vaccinations Are So Hard to Track

By Madeline Will — March 24, 2021 6 min read
Image of a needle and vaccine bottle.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Teachers around the country can now get the COVID-19 vaccine, but there’s no way of knowing how many are currently inoculated against the virus. Even school and district leaders don’t always know which of their staff has been vaccinated—raising questions about safety, privacy, and logistics.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that teacher vaccinations are not a prerequisite for reopening school buildings, many teachers’ unions have resisted resuming in-person instruction until a majority of staff have gotten their shots. Some parents are also reluctant to send their children back into school buildings until the staff is vaccinated, especially since vaccines will not be available for young students until probably next year.

To address these concerns, President Joe Biden and many state leaders have rushed to prioritize teachers for the vaccine. Yet many vaccination sites do not collect or report occupation data, and many districts are not tracking vaccination rates themselves. Some district leaders say they’re wary of asking employees if they’ve gotten vaccinated because they don’t want to run afoul of any privacy laws, although the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said that employers can ask whether employees have gotten a COVID-19 vaccine.

The National Education Association surveyed more than 3,000 of its nearly 3 million members and found that about half have gotten at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and just 11 percent say they won’t be vaccinated at all. But it’s impossible to break down teacher vaccination rates by state: No states are publicly reporting the percentage of teachers and other school staff who have been vaccinated, according to an analysis by Johns Hopkins University.

Right now, “there’s this push to reopen schools, and there’s a large proportion of people saying teacher vaccines need to be a critical part of the process,” said Megan Collins, the co-director of the Johns Hopkins Consortium for School-Based Health Solutions.

Yet there’s no clear data on how many educators are already vaccinated, she said, adding that increased transparency could help district leaders make more-responsive back-to-school decisions, and make teachers and parents feel more comfortable with resuming in-person instruction.

Read Next

Vaccine record.
Bill Oxford/iStock/Getty

“I suspect that states are going to have to start grappling with this question more and more,” Collins said. “It has significant implications for the operation of schools.”

There are some statewide pushes underway for more and better data. In a Feb. 22 press conference, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the more school staff are vaccinated, the more comfortable teachers will feel returning to the classroom.

“The question is, how many have been vaccinated, and how many are in class and teaching?” he said. “I think we need clarity on that matter because opening schools is very important … for children, which we know, and it has economic consequences beyond that.”

The governor’s office is now working with county health departments to track the progress of teacher vaccination rates. The state department of health is reviewing the data collected so far before publishing it, a spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, the Texas Education Agency, in partnership with the Texas Department of State Health Services, launched a campaign this month to try and track the state’s progress in vaccinating school staff. The education agency has asked school systems to submit a weekly report about what portion of their staff is able to make an appointment to get the vaccine. The agency will use the data collected to identify any school districts that need additional support to meet their goal.

Districts struggle with tracking teacher vaccinations

In Chicago, vaccinations were a huge sticking point ahead of the district reopening its elementary and middle schools early this month. (The district hopes to bring high school students back to classrooms next month.) The school system has now made all employees eligible to get vaccinated at the district-run sites, but data on how many employees have gotten their first shot are limited since employees can also get vaccinated at independent sites.

The Chicago Board of Education approved a measure last month that requires employees to tell the district whether they’ve been vaccinated. But so far, the district’s survey of employees has only garnered a 41 percent response rate, the Chicago Tribune reported last week. The Chicago Teachers Union asked its members to wait to respond to the district’s vaccination survey until the union leadership had bargained with the district about remote accommodations for high-risk educators now that many have been vaccinated.

If school districts know exactly how many teachers have been vaccinated, teachers’ unions will have less room to negotiate the return to classrooms, said Bradley Marianno, a professor of educational policy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“It’s an information battle,” he said. “From the union’s standpoint, it takes away a bargaining advantage if the district knows to what extent the teaching force has been vaccinated.”

But from the district’s standpoint, Marianno said, that information is helpful not only for negotiations but for protecting the health and safety of their employees as they work to reopen school buildings.

And parents want to know this information, too. When the Coxsackie-Athens Central school district, located about 20 miles south of Albany, N.Y., surveyed parents whose children are still learning remotely about what it would take for them to feel comfortable resuming in-person instruction, 43 percent said they’d feel better if all staff were vaccinated.

Superintendent Randy Squier said he plans to let parents know approximately what percentage of district staff has been vaccinated. But he doesn’t know which individual staff members have been vaccinated, and he said he doesn’t need to know. The one exception would be if there were a positive COVID-19 case in the school, because any vaccinated adult who was exposed would not need to quarantine if asymptomatic, in accordance with CDC and New York state guidance.

Richard Calkins, the superintendent of Pocantico Hills Central school district in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., said the majority of his employees have shared their vaccination statuses with the school nurses. But some staff want to keep their status confidential, he said, and he hasn’t mandated the disclosure.

“One scary aspect of the vaccination process is there’s vaccination shaming” of those who decline to get a shot, Calkins said. “I think that societal pressures can be really difficult. … There are [also] certainly health aspects where people should probably not get vaccinated, and teachers do not share that.”

The CDC has said anyone who has ever had a severe or immediate allergic reaction to any of the ingredients in the three approved COVID-19 vaccines should not receive that vaccine. While experts believe that COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely to pose a risk to a pregnant person or a fetus, the vaccines have not been extensively studied in pregnant people. (Emerging research, however, shows that pregnant people who get vaccinated pass along immunity to their babies.) The CDC suggests that pregnant people consult with their doctor about getting vaccinated.

Calkins is waiting for more guidance from the state health department on how to navigate this uncharted territory: “The balance between safety and [privacy] rights and health concerns is on everyone’s mind,” Calkins said.

Events

School & District Management Webinar How Pensions Work: Why It Matters for K-12 Education
Panelists explain the fundamentals of teacher pension finances — how they are paid for, what drives their costs, and their impact on K-12 education.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
Strategies for Incorporating SEL into Curriculum
Empower students to thrive. Learn how to integrate powerful social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies into the classroom.
Content provided by Be GLAD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion Don’t Just Listen to the Loudest Voices: Resources for Ed. Leaders
These resources can help school and district leaders communicate with their communities.
Jennifer Perry Cheatham & Jenny Portillo-Nacu
5 min read
A pair of hands type on a blank slate of keys that are either falling apart or coming together on a bed of sharpened pencils.  Leadership resources.
Raul Arias for Education Week
School & District Management The Harm of School Closures Can Last a Lifetime, New Research Shows
The short-term effects on students when their schools close have been well documented. New research examines the long-term impact.
5 min read
Desks and chairs are stacked in an empty classroom after the permanent closure of Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy in Brooklyn borough of New York on Aug. 6, 2020.
Desks and chairs are stacked in an empty classroom after the permanent closure of Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy in Brooklyn borough of New York on Aug. 6, 2020. A new study examines the long-term effects on students whose schools close.
Jessie Wardarski/AP
School & District Management Video 'Students Never Forget': Principals Call for Help After School Shootings
School leaders are lobbying Congress for more financial support for schools that experience gun violence.
2 min read
Forest High School students console one another after a school shooting at Forest High School Friday, April 20, 2018 in Ocala, Fla. One student shot another in the ankle at the high school and a suspect is in custody, authorities said Friday. The injured student was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
Forest High School students console one another after a school shooting at Forest High School Friday, April 20, 2018 in Ocala, Fla. One student shot another in the ankle at the high school and a suspect is in custody, authorities said Friday. The injured student was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
Doug Engle/Star-Banner via AP
School & District Management Opinion In School Leadership, Busy Is a Given. Chaos Is a Choice
There will never be enough time, money, or resources to solve every problem in education, so we must learn to operate within constraints.
Kate Hazarian
3 min read
Two hands attempt to hold chaos.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva