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Prince William School Board Member Suggests Schools Close to Vaccinate Teachers

| January 16, 2021 | 0 Comments | News

Lillie Jessie, Prince William School Board representative from the Occoquan District.

Prince William School Board member Lillie Jessie is advocating that the Superintendent close schools to allow nurses to administer first round of vaccinations to staff.

The Occoquan School Board member said it would a short-term sacrifice that would make it possible for students to return to in-person learning sooner. She explains it would also protect the health of educators and employees more immediately than waiting for the current plan.

According to the current plan, INOVA Fairfax can schedule teachers for Jan. 30- Feb. 5. School Board members and supervisors said that is not soon enough, and would like a better solution.

Lillie Jessie’s message: 

I have watched television stories and read print media all day highlighting teachers and school staff in the local region and on a national level receiving the COVID vaccine.

Perhaps I did not express myself clearly at the last Board Meeting. We have the highest positivity rate in Northern Virginia. Our school system one of the few if not the only that has students in classrooms. Even more importantly we are the only one bringing in students from the community where the surge is evident.

Our surveillance forms increased to more than 400 submissions in three days. If we continue at our current create, we risk shutting the school down for longer than needed. No one wants that.

We are currently in a surge and have been warned of an additional surge on top of this surge. The CDC recommends those who test positive with symptoms wait to receive the vaccine until after they recover. If we continue to expose our staff we may have to wait until they recover to vaccinate them. We put the health of our PWCS staff and community at risk.

In addition, every day we wait we increase the possibility of a necessary shut down. We risk losing PWCS staff, we risk creating delays due to quarantine. We also put a strain on our health providers who need to be available to distribute the vaccine.

However, if we vaccinate teachers sooner rather than later, speeded up the process we can reduce infection sand putting us in a better position to reopen school sooner rather than later.

Man are frustrated with the delays for vaccination, we have the ability to speed up the process. We have to make as decision now that is in our longer-term best interest and will allow us to resume in-person safely.

We have a vaccine. At the last meeting I cited two reasons to bring students back “diminishing metrics and availability of the vaccine for our staff.” We have another distinction as a school division. We have more than 100 school nurses. These nurses are in schools overseeing the 7,000 students that we chose to bring back into the classroom. It is time to change the course in our planning.

I am requesting that we train our school nurses and use them in the distribution of the vaccine to our staff as soon as possible and at PWCS facilities if possible.

This would mean that nurses may not be available for our schools. There are certification requirements and training. The Superintendent has the authority to close schools temporarily so that the training and immunization to ensure our staff gets vaccinated to reduce the spread. Other countries have shut down and done just that.

Dr. Walts also indicated there are sites in our school system that could be used. Mrs. Polk our Supervisors of School Nurses has indicated on more than one occasion that she works closely with the Health Department. I am sure she will be able to coordinate a plan.

The safety of our staff and students is our number one priority. I feel helpless when I hear and read stories from our staff. We lost a member of our school family, Dinora Meija, to COVID. We were quick to note that it did not happen at school. Fact is she was in our schools. It does not matter where the infection occurs. We are in a crisis but are not changing course in our plans.

It is important that we have a plan. I failed to make that clear at the Board Meeting. I would suggest the following order:

1. Staff and teachers involved in direct learning to include bus drivers, cafeteria staff and office staff. Central office staff to include maintenance workers should also be considered.
2. Tier I and Tier II teachers
3. Other staff members.

This is merely a suggestion.

I brought this to the attention of Mr. Imon Deputy Superintendent on January 14, 2020. I asked specifically if the Superintendent has the authority to close schools if needed. He said yes, but in his remarks, preferred the support of the School Baord members. I have made a few calls to Board members and think that it may or may not be an issue.

Fact is, teachers and I are watching other school divisions step up to the plate for their staff. It is time for the Superintendent and this Board to step up and take care of our staff. Some Board members think keeping our word about staying open is important. I share that believe but when a storm is coming and you are forewarned you may want to cancel that already scheduled trip to the grocery store. You may call a Code Red. It is time w do that in order to get our staff out of harm’s way and get them vaccinated.

There is a military saying, “You respond to what you see on the ground!”

Lillie G. Jessie

School Board Representative
Occoquan District


In demonstrating that cases are rising in PWCS, Jessie included a graph of “Surveillance Submissions” for teachers and students. It is a number of COVID-19 cases in schools that school nurses have reported.

Beginning on Nov. 4, recorded student incidents were less than 10 per day. Numbers rose significantly after the Thanksgiving holiday and peaked at 91 on Dec. 15. They also rose again after the return from winter break and reached a peak of 165 on Jan. 6.

For staff, daily numbers stayed under 25 throughout 2020. However, they spiked in the new year reaching a high of 80 on Jan. 4. These numbers reflect only special education, and PreK-1st graders who choose in-person learning in school.

Bristow Beat has not yet investigated which school board. members are amenable to Jessie’s recommendation.

However, the plan would depend upon the Prince William Health Department having enough COVID-19 vaccines to expedite the process.

© 2021, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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