Hailed as ‘Heroes,’ Child Care Workers in Some States Are Denied Vaccine Priority

For months, they’ve been labeled “essential workers,” celebrated for his or her sacrifices and hailed as heroes for his or her function in conserving the nation going in the face of a lethal pandemic. But with vaccinations underway—and an finish to the exhaustion, concern and struggling lastly in sight—early childhood educators in some states have discovered themselves snubbed by the very individuals who as soon as praised them for stepping up in a disaster.

In its really useful vaccination schedule, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) counsel that states vaccinate baby care employees, Ok-12 academics and academic help workers collectively—in Phase 1b, alongside different “frontline essential workers” such as grocery retailer employees, public transit employees, law enforcement officials and firefighters, and other people over the age of 75. This group comes behind solely well being care employees and residents of long-term care amenities.

Yet the suggestions are simply that. Each state will get to ascertain its personal vaccination plan, selecting which teams to prioritize over others. Most have adopted the CDC pointers: 39 states, plus Washington, D.C., have mentioned they’ll vaccinate all educators collectively. (Six states—Florida, Indiana, Maine, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin—haven’t but specified when Ok-12 and early childhood educators might be eligible.)

Others have opted to veer from the CDC’s suggestions. This contains no less than 5 states—Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming—whose plans put early childhood educators in a decrease precedence group than their colleagues in Ok-12 colleges.

The response from baby care suppliers, academics and advocates in these 5 states—which collectively comprise greater than 75,000 early childhood educators—is a mixture of indignation, frustration and discouragement. Many are additionally not stunned, saying that whereas they hoped for higher remedy, they’ve realized to count on little from a public that thinks of them not as educated educators, however as mere babysitters.

‘We Deserve a Lot More’

Mandy Young is accustomed to the excellence that’s usually accorded to Ok-12 academics however not early childhood educators. She taught in a public college for a number of years earlier than transitioning to early childhood, and he or she realized rapidly that though she’d made a “lateral move” in her profession, “respect-wise, I took a dip.”

“People will treat me like I’m nothing when I tell them what I do now,” says Young, who’s the administrator at CTK Kids Learning Center in northeast Ohio. “They’ll go, ‘Oh …’ Whereas when I was a kindergarten teacher, they’d be like, ‘Wow! That’s amazing. Here’s a discount.’ … It’s not acceptable. It’s not acceptable at all.”

Young says she has been placing in 12- to 16-hour days because the pandemic started 10 months in the past. Her workers usually work 11-hour days. Her heart by no means shut down. When the governor known as upon baby care suppliers to step up and serve the youngsters of frontline employees, that’s what they did.

“We didn’t stop,” she says. “We didn’t close one single day. My teachers didn’t get time off. There was no staying at home or taking a mental health day. You had to keep going, with a smile on your face behind a fabric mask.”

They did it willingly, however not with out concern or fatigue. They understood their function in this disaster was vital, that to remain open meant dad and mom might proceed to work, medical workers might deal with COVID-19 sufferers and grocery retailer employees might preserve cabinets stocked.

“I personally sat at doors doing temperature checks, putting myself at risk to every single person who came through this building,” Young remembers, exasperated. “I’m a special needs mom. Putting myself at risk puts my children at risk. Our job itself is not heroic. It’s the attitude we bring to this job that makes us heroes.”

Meanwhile, Young notes, many Ok-12 educators in Ohio have continued to show their lessons from house, the place they and their households are secure. So when the Ohio Department of Public Health launched details of Phase 1b vaccination distributions earlier this month and it named “adults/employees in K-12 schools” however excluded any point out of kid care workers, Young was incensed.

“It’s a huge slap in the face to our industry and a huge slap in the face to our professionalism,” says Young. “It’s appalling. We deserve a lot more than we get.”

Many early childhood educators had feared this final result and actively labored to stop it. Kimberly Tice, government director of the Ohio Association for the Education of Young Children, a bunch that helps the early childhood workforce, orchestrated the creation of a professional video in December, in which baby care employees throughout the state urge Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and his administration to prioritize early childhood educators for the COVID-19 vaccine. Tice and her colleagues additionally wrote letters to state management and public well being officers, imploring them to think about the dangers that baby care employees face daily.

The Ohio Association for the Education of Young Children produced this video urging state leaders to prioritize early childhood educators for the COVID-19 vaccine. (OAEYC)

Tice realized on Jan. 13, from an electronic mail she obtained from the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, that early childhood educators had been bumped to a decrease vaccination group.

“It’s frustrating. On the one hand, they’ve heard they are heroes and essential workers,” Tice explains. “And yet when the rubber hits the road and priority for vaccines comes along, they’re forgotten. … This decision just seems to fly in the face of being identified as ‘essential.’”

Tice says she sees the argument for speeding vaccines to Ok-12 academics and workers. Many public colleges stay closed, denying college students not solely in-person instruction, however help companies, meals and grownup care and supervision that a lot of them don’t get in any other case.

“We do understand there is a scarcity of the vaccine, but we believe if you’ve prioritized K-12, those who are teaching children birth to age 5 should be in the same category,” she says, adding that this is, after all, what the CDC recommends.

What’s more, Tice argues, is that unlike their peers in K-12 schools, child care workers often lack access to employment benefits such as paid sick leave and health insurance, both of which would be helpful to fall back on should they contract the virus that has killed 400,000 people in the United States and sickened millions.

Like their peers in Ohio, child care workers and early education proponents in Kentucky began lobbying their state leaders about vaccination schedules almost as soon as an effective vaccine was announced.

On Dec. 17, Bradley Stevenson, executive director of the Child Care Council of Kentucky, sent a letter to Gov. Andy Beshear, appealing to him to include early childhood professionals among all other public educators in vaccination priority. “Child care teachers have risen to the occasion and answered the call,” Stevenson wrote.

When he still hadn’t heard anything three weeks later, he organized an online letter-writing campaign where nearly 800 early childhood educators and families sent emails to the governor, the lieutenant governor and the state’s public health administrator, saying, in part, “As vaccines are being distributed in Kentucky and plans are being created to prioritize groups to receive the vaccine, I am requesting that child care teachers/staff be prioritized with all other public education staff.”

But when eligibility for Phase 1b was announced in Kentucky, the only educators counted among them were K-12 teachers and staff.

“I have talked to so many child care providers who showed up, and their teachers showed up, day after day after day, in the midst of a pandemic, to provide essential services,” Stevenson says. “For them not to get that recognition, it really disappointed me. But I probably should not be surprised or shocked. It’s a respect issue. There’s a devaluation on the profession as a whole. … Prioritizing those educators with K-12 educators would have made a statement about the absolute importance of early care in education.”

A spokesperson from the Utah Department of Public Health provided a statement to EdSurge explaining the agency’s decision to vaccinate K-12 educators first.

“Utah, like all other states, has tried to implement a COVID-19 vaccine plan that does the most good for the most people,” the statement reads. “With limited vaccine doses available, we have had to make difficult decisions about who gets the vaccine and when. … Utah’s K-12 schools have been significantly impacted by COVID-19, and vaccinating teachers will help ensure schools can continue to fulfill the important role they provide in our society.”

‘We Owe It to Them’

Among the states that adhered to the CDC’s recommendations for vaccination distribution are Minnesota and Oregon.

On Jan. 18, Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota announced a pilot program, beginning this weekend, that would vaccinate 6,000 educators, including 2,000 early childhood educators.

“Educators and child care workers care for the mental and emotional well-being of our children, and we know that child care workers are disproportionately women of color, who have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic. We owe it to them to support their health and safety,” said Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan in a statement about the pilot program.

Chad Dunkley, president of the Minnesota Child Care Association and CEO of New Horizon Academy, a network of about 70 child care centers in the state, said he “never questioned” that the state would prioritize early childhood and K-12 educators equally. Still, he and his staff wrote letters outlining what they believed to be the most compelling arguments for vaccinating child care workers early.

The letter Chad Dunkley and his colleagues sent to Minnesota state leadership in December.

In one letter, he wrote: “Teachers have put themselves at risk—when working with children, social distancing is not an option as they need our physical, emotional and intellectual support at this critical age.”

In an interview, Dunkley expounds on what he meant by that: “Younger children get bottle fed. They get their diapers changed. And they need physical contact with adults, [such as] hugs when they fall down. Many early educators can’t physically distance from their students,” he says. “In many ways, child care providers should almost be a higher priority.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown chose to include child care staff with other educators in Phase 1b, and Melanie Mesaros, communications director for the Oregon Department of Education’s Early Learning Division, explained the decision in an email: “Child care has remained open throughout the pandemic in Oregon. Providers were asked to follow increased safety and health protocols to serve families and essential workers. Early childhood educators have been taking on greater risks, and it’s important they have access to the vaccine so they can continue their critical support to families.”

Mesaros added that the governor also considered issues of equity when determining vaccination priorities. “The families who have been most impacted are disproportionately families of color and low-income families, with the biggest impacts felt by working mothers. Many child care providers themselves are from the communities that have been most impacted by COVID-19,” nodding to the fact that 40 percent of early childhood educators nationwide are women of color.

Ashley C. Williams, a senior policy analyst at the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, says the states that are decoupling early childhood educators from their K-12 counterparts illustrate not only the “societal dissonance” that exists between the two sectors but also the underlying equity issues rooted in history.

“What is it about this workforce of women that they are expected to shoulder the burden of a pandemic, with their own health and wellbeing and their economic dignity on the line? What is it about this group that continues to be undervalued?” Williams asks. “I think it dials me back to issues of inequity and injustice for the people performing this work. Child care in this country has deep roots of oppression and roots in slavery, the place Black ladies have been caring for white ladies’s kids and having to prioritize these kids’s wants over their very own. That is a deeper dialog and a deeper perspective that we have to have.”

Overall, this pattern amongst some states is “very distressing” and “follows a pattern” of disrespect for the sphere, says Calvin E. Moore Jr., CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition, which oversees the Child Development Associate, essentially the most well known and accepted credential in early childhood schooling.

In Ohio, early childhood educators haven’t given up hope, despite the fact that the state has up to now excluded them from the subsequent part of vaccination distribution.

“We’re still continuing to try to have people raise their voices,” says Tice, the Ohio AEYC director, as a result of if she’s realized something over the past 10 months, it’s that circumstances in the course of the pandemic can shift rapidly.

“What is true today,” she says hopefully, “may change tomorrow.”

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