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SLCSD is trying to find out when their educators can get COVID-19 vaccine

(West High School. Credit: Paul Nelson, file)

SALT LAKE CITY – Could the Salt Lake City School District (SLCSD) restart in-person learning soon enough so educators could qualify for a bonus from the state? SLCSD officials say it’s possible if they can get teachers the COVID-19 vaccine soon enough. 

Last month, the Utah Legislature’s Executive Appropriations Committee voted to approve a one-time stipend that would give teachers and staff a $1,500 bonus as a “thank you” for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there was a catch. The stipend would only go to schools offering some sort of in-person learning by February 8. The Salt Lake City School District hadn’t planned to offer in-person classes in junior high or high schools by that time.

Getting a vaccine to SLCSD educators 

On Tuesday, the board decided not to restart in-person learning in secondary schools simply so teachers could get that bonus. But, educators say that might change if they were able to vaccinate their teachers as soon as possible. 

“They’re concerned about safety, not just for students, but for our employees. Of course, the COVID-19 vaccine is a game-changer,” said District Spokesperson Yándary Chatwin.

Chatwin said District Interim Superintendent Larry Madden has been speaking with officials from the Utah Department of Health to get the latest information on when the vaccines could roll out to their teachers.

But, educators still have a lot of questions. For instance, when would the vaccines arrive, and who would be in charge of determining which teachers get it first?

Even if teachers are able to get the medication, Chatwin explained they won’t rush teachers into coming back if they don’t feel safe.

“They’re able to indicate what their preference might be in terms of teaching remotely or teaching in person.  We don’t want any employee to feel like their health is going to be put at risk,” she said.

Qualify for the bonus 

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson says the February 8 deadline wasn’t selected at random. Lawmakers wanted to schedule the deadline for an earlier date, but they negotiated with the SLCSD and agreed on February 8. 

Elementary school teachers may be able to get their bonuses. However, Wilson said secondary school teachers won’t receive them unless the board changes their decision on getting students back in school by the deadline.

“No junior high or high school educators, including staff, would be eligible for the stipend,” he stated.

Wilson is not considering giving the district any kind of extension, adding that kids who only have remote learning are falling behind every day.

“We’d love for them to get it, but, we’re just saying that the stipend and the policy decision we made [was to] thank educators across the state for teaching in the classroom,” he said.