Teachers, as essential workers, became eligible to receive the COVID vaccine, and the Atwater Elementary School District was ready to go to make it accessible for all school personnel.
Michelle Bush, Assistant Superintendent of HR for Atwater Elementary School District, told the Times, “We’re still working on the vaccinations. We have Group C going through this week, and that group is the last of the employees.
“The vaccine distribution went very well.
“I’m very proud of the work we’re doing here in Atwater. Our staff has shown nothing but resilience.
“It wasn’t mandated that the vaccine be received. We’re not finished yet, but as soon as we get through our last group, about 270 employees in all will have been vaccinated. We have about 550 employees total. Some had been vaccinated before due to their age or medical issues.
“When it was time to receive the vaccine, some employees went through Public Health and were vaccinated at the Fairgrounds, and there was then a vaccine clinic at Buhach Colony High School set up through Castle Family Health Centers where others went.
“When we started the school year, teachers came back into their classrooms to use all their tools and resources for Distance Learning.
“They were back in their classrooms teaching, but without students.
“We started in Distance Learning and then we opened the campuses while Merced County was in the Red Tier, so we were able to stay open when it returned to Purple Tier.
“We went to our hybrid model, which is some kids are on all Distance Learning and some kids come to school half the day and do Distance Learning the other half of the day.
“Parents still have the option of having their kid come to school or stay home and do Distance Learning.
“School nurse Cheryl Brown, our COVID Coordinator, was vaccinated in the first round because she is a health care provider. She was ready to run our vaccination clinic if we had to vaccinate our own employees.
“We knew the eligibility for teachers was coming closer and closer, and once we had the green light, we started uploading lists of the people who would receive the vaccine to those providing the service.
“As it turned out, we provided our list of employees, and the Merced County Public Health Department and Castle Family Health Centers had their own support to schedule and run the vaccine effort.
“Our responsibility was to know our groups, and Public Health worked hand in hand with MCOE to insure an equitable distribution model based on student enrollment and staff size. They did this distribution by considering the whole picture of what was happening at each school site.
“First, we gave out a survey in January 2021 which was optional for staff members to complete. We did this so we could be prepared when the vaccine became available. In that survey of our staff, we got great feedback of where the interest would lie.
“We used the information to create groups A, B and C. Group A was the most high risk, and Group C, the lowest risk. Priority was given to people age 65 and older and the medically vulnerable. We included all employees — teachers, bus drivers, office staff, custodial staff — because all are physically around our students.
School District support
“The vaccine is like the light at the end of the tunnel.
“We’re in a public health crisis so this is on everyone’s mind.
“The vaccine is another step in the right direction and another part of the safety mitigation strategy.
“Any way we can add another layer of safety for people is important during the public health crisis, and this adds another complete layer of protection for all people.
“One by one, we helped support our teachers, some of whom had concerns about taking the vaccine due to their age or a medical condition.
“We did a lot of interactives and worked towards whatever workplace accommodations we could. An interactive is a way to engage with an employee in a meeting process to look at the medical information being provided by a care provider and you consider some of the recommendations in making workplace accommodations.
“You have to stay interactive because as medical information is updated, you have to review the information and be sure to support people to do their jobs fully and safely.
“We did a really healthy job engaging our employees in that process with the labor unions’ support.”