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'Slap in the face:' Teachers frustrated they're not prioritized for vaccine

More students are back in the buildings just as teachers learn they will have to wait to get the coronavirus vaccine.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — It's officially the second semester of a school year for the books.

Ware County Schools delayed their reopening until Monday due to COVID-19, but most First Coast classrooms are back in action. This time more students are back in the buildings just as teachers learn they will have to wait to get the coronavirus vaccine.

A Duval County Public Schools spokesperson says over 5,000 students are returning to brick and mortar schooling instead of online learning this quarter. 

Eleven more students now sit in one of Alex Ingram's classes. Because he's teaching both in-person and online, the in-person classes have more students than they would in a normal year. One class has 26 students.

"When more students move from online to in-person we only have two slots of in-person to put them in," Ingram said.

Every day Ingram is doing the math for what he calls this "Russian roulette" of getting COVID-19 from one of his middle or high school classes.

"I just did an informal survey with my class," he said. "'Hey, how many of you guys traveled or had someone that doesn't live in your house at your house during the break?' It was about 50 percent of my students."

Former health problems mean Ingram is not low-risk when it comes to the virus. He's also not a healthcare worker, first responder, nursing home resident, nor over 65. People in those categories can get the vaccine.

Ingram was holding his breath on the eve of back-to-school in Duval County as DeSantis was asked by a reporter if he was considering adding teachers to the list of people who can get the vaccine next.

"Not at this time," DeSantis responded.

Teachers are frustrated.

"To see that the governor prioritized firefighters and police officers but not teachers was just a real slap in the face," Ingram said.

"We should be up on that list as well," said Tamisha Curry, a second-grade teacher in Duval County.

Curry is not able to space her desks six feet apart. She has one additional student in her classroom this quarter, bringing the total to 19 children.

"We want to make sure that those that have pre-existing conditions, that are of age, they do need the vaccine," Curry said. "However we are essential workers. So just like your healthcare professionals, your nurses, your doctors, your firefighters, they have access to get it. We have a classroom setting and it's in one small setting all day. They are with us all day except for 30 minutes for lunch."

There are over 82,000 students now on campus and just over 24,000 learning online. A DCPS spokesperson says their substitute teacher provider had more than 2,000 substitute teachers in their pool at last check.

There is no word on when teachers specifically may be able to get the vaccine. The incoming surgeon general said it could be the end of the summer by the time there is widespread vaccination.

Read the latest on COVID-19 vaccines on the Department of Health website here.

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