Lack of Local Vaccine Access Among Hurdles Hindering More In-Person Instruction at Saline Area Schools
Saline Area Schools Interim Superintendent Steve Laatsch provided the board of education with another update Tuesday regarding the “return to learn” process, highlighting several factors keeping the current hybrid model in place for the time being.
One of the most significant difficulties has simply been the lack of opportunities for staff members to get vaccinated against COVID-19 locally, according to Laatsch.
“I will say very frankly that we’re very discouraged by the vaccination process in Washtenaw County,” he said, citing a survey of school districts that put Washtenaw County in last place in terms of vaccinating its educators. “When we talk to the Washtenaw County Health Department, there is some rationale for this. They’re prioritizing differently, going with age groups.”
Laatsch said the next phase will allow for some staff to get vaccinated.
“Now the next group we’re working towards is educators 50 and older, but what other counties have done is they moved educators in front and made that happen quicker,” he said. “We’re seeing some counties that have 100 percent of their educators vaccinated, both doses, and this is a very frustrating process.”
When the next phase will happen is not clear, however.
“We just don’t have a lot of information that we can reveal and the Washtenaw County Health Department isn’t able to give us specific timelines,” he said.
Laatsch said the district is actively advocating for their employees.
“We are really trying for our teachers and all our educators, lobbying to push on whether we can get the hospital system to help us with this process and we’re just not having a lot of luck there.”
About 60 special educators considered high risk have been able to get their first shot of the vaccine locally, Laatsch said, while nearly 90 more staff members have found ways to go outside the county and receive their initial doses.
Getting all staff access to shots would be a big step in the right direction, Laatsch said, in terms of moving toward more in-person learning.
“The more we have vaccinated, it’s a better mitigation strategy for all of us,” he said, “for our students and our staff.”
Another troubling aspect standing in the way of a full-on return to school is the cases per 100,000 metric, according to Laatsch. The target is less than 10.
“Last time (Jan. 25) we were at 20.3 and in Washtenaw County we are up to 28.2 right now and that is high compared to the rest of the counties, actually,” he said.
Laatsch said there has been a lot of conjecture as to why Washtenaw County is higher in this regard than the regional trend, such as the University of Michigan Athletic Department cases or the new variant strains. The bottom line, however, is that cases need to come down.
“What we do know is that number 28.2 is still too high to return to greater in-person instruction.”
A bright spot in the data is that in-school transmission numbers remain very low.
“It’s important to note that the student to student, staff to staff and staff to student spread has been very little,” he said. “Over 10 months of being in-person hybrid instruction, and I know we’ve been in and out of it a little bit, we’ve had very little spread, only one staff to staff known case and one suspected student to student case.”