When Teton County announced on Feb. 10 that it would be getting extra COVID-19 vaccine doses this month, it seemed to be a surprise gift—particularly for teachers, who would be able to get a shot sooner than expected. But it turns out there was a lot of advocacy going on behind the scenes to secure the extra shots.
“Several of us have burned the phone lines using every contact we have from Cheyenne to Washington, D.C., to get us these damn vaccines,” said Teton County Board of Education Trustee Bill Scarlett, speaking during a special meeting on Thursday, Feb. 18. “And now we’re told we can’t go back?”
Scarlett requested the special meeting last week to discuss a proposal for a full-time, in-person return to classrooms for district middle and high school students starting March 1. The board ended up agreeing on a compromise of four days per week of in-person learning for all students starting April 12—by which time, teachers and support staff will be fully vaccinated, according to Superintendent Gillian Chapman.
“We have advocated at the national level with our representatives to get more vaccine here, and I believe those efforts worked,” Chapman said, “and that’s why we are getting the vaccine much sooner than what we were originally told. And I think it’s a huge win for our community.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Biden’s top advisor on the coronavirus pandemic, has said that at least 75% of Americans need to get vaccinated in order for the country to reach herd immunity. So, more vaccines is good news for the county. Chapman also said healthy teachers shouldn’t feel guilty for being eligible now.
“I’ve heard some people say, ‘Well, I don’t really feel like I am at risk in any way. I would rather give up my vaccine—even though I’m an eligible employee—I would rather give up my vaccine to someone else.’ And it doesn’t really work that way,” Chapman said. “You’re not jumping the line. You’re not taking a vaccine from somebody else. Everyone will have the opportunity and, you know, we should take it.”
Four educators KHOL spoke to were all looking forward to getting their first shot during the county’s first mass vaccination clinic for teachers, school support staff and childcare providers on Saturday, Feb. 20.
“I’m planning on getting it. I’m excited for it,” said Isela Magana, secretary at Jackson Hole Middle School, with a laugh. “It’s time!”
Magana said that for her, it’s all about missing the students and sharing in-person interactions. Getting vaccinated will help her feel safer being around them—even if still at a distance.
“We hate, you know, having conversations with them, like, behind the Plexiglas,” she said. “We want a face-to-face conversation and, you know, feeling safe and making sure that we’re all healthy.”
Jeff Broeder, a first grade teacher at Wilson Elementary School, was also “absolutely” planning on getting his shot. “I think it’ll give me the opportunity to relax a little bit, not in any of the things that we’re doing, but just mentally relax a little bit,” he said.
Like other K-5 teachers in the Teton County School District, Broeder has been back in the classroom with a pod of students four days per week since September. For him, that’s meant minimizing other potential sources of exposure to COVID-19 as much as possible—no restaurant dining and no group activities.
“I see so many groups that should be and have been put in front of educators that have gotten their vaccines,” Broeder said, “but where we are now, I do feel like if teachers are teaching in-person, in the schools, that’s a different conversation than if we were all still virtual and teaching from our houses.”
Adriana Morgan has also been teaching in-person since last fall. She’s a fourth grade Spanish-language teacher at the bilingual Munger Mountain Elementary School—and also the mother of two elementary-school-age kids.
“It was a hard decision [to go back in September]. It was the right decision to do, but it was hard. And it, you know, made us think a lot,” Morgan said. “‘Are we really willing to put ourselves here?’ And it was kind of like a part of, ‘Yes, of course,’ and a part of, ‘But, you know, what if we get sick? Like, we have families too.’”
Morgan, who is originally from Costa Rica, also said it’s been hard to see the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Hispanic and Latino families, both nationally and in the Jackson area. “It’s a big reality and we see it here in our school more than others because… we have 50% of our families are Hispanic or Latino,” she said. “And we do know that their reality is very different from the reality of other community members here.”
On the other hand, Morgan said she feels like the Jackson community is always willing to help anyone who’s struggling—and hopefully everyone will benefit from more vaccines.
The last teacher KHOL spoke to before he received his first shot was Jeff Stines, a history and psychology teacher at Jackson Hole High School. Stines has dedicated 26 years to public education, including 23 years in Teton County, so he knows a little something about school board politics.
“It’s a challenge to satisfy a very diverse group of stakeholders. You have parents that are—and colleagues, quite frankly—that are terrified for their kids, for their families. And you have people that, you know, continue to think that it’s just the flu bug.”
While Stines said there have been moments over the past year when he felt like “a punching bag,” he also said there’s been a silver lining to the pandemic in the education world.
“You do realize what a valuable role you play as a teacher and that schools play in our community,” he said. “I’m proud to be a teacher.”
Teton County will hold its next mass vaccination for educators and school support staff on Saturday, Feb. 27.