COVID vaccine availability brings Fresno Unified closer to 'full' return to classrooms

'We'd be thrilled to be able to get all of our 10,000 employees vaccinated by the end of March.'
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- New developments and partnerships mean every single employee at Fresno Unified will have access to COVID vaccinations by the end of March, so the question now is: When will kids get back in classrooms?

The wait is ending for Fresno County educators who want a COVID-19 vaccine.

The public health department is committing 40,000 doses for school employees in March, distributed at vaccine sites across the county.

And Fresno Unified is adding even more doses for its staff, through a clinic at Valley Children's Hospital where more than 2,000 shots will be available every week.

"If that happens in the timeline we anticipate, we'd be thrilled to be able to get all of our 10,000 employees vaccinated by the end of March, which would be awesome," says Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson.

Vaccine availability could push schools closer to a more regular reopening.

The district sent about 2,500 kids back to campuses in small groups this week, prioritizing special needs students, foster youth, and the unhoused.

Nelson says he plans to have 10,000 students on campus by March 8.

But that's still just 14% of children Fresno Unified serves.

"We know that's not enough for folks, that people want their kids back and so we're trying to find ways to make that a reality. And with that we're putting some structures in place to kind of make it easier for folks to come back and feel more comfortable with that," says Nelson.

Fresno Teachers' Association president Manuel Bonilla told Action News:
"A coordinated approach to ensure all Fresno Unified employees have access to the vaccine is a great step to returning to in-person instruction. This along with mitigating community spread, a robust testing protocol, and addressing ongoing healthcare concerns."

The vaccines are coming and a giant rapid testing program through the California Endowment isn't far behind.

The district is finalizing a program where parents can opt their kids into weekly testing.

Management is negotiating to get everyone back in class before the orange tier, which was the time targeted for a return back in October - before vaccines were a reality.

"Our intent is to be back in April if we can, or to finish the year. I don't want to have another series of virtual graduations if it can be helped in any way, shape, or form," says Nelson.

The switch officially flips to educators here at Fresno Unified and across Fresno County on Monday. But several educators tell me they've already been able to schedule appointments at pharmacies this week.
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