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The Bozeman School Board is asking the governor to reprioritize teachers and school personnel in the current phase of vaccine distribution.

The request comes a month after the Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte made changes to the vaccine distribution plan, including moving educators from Phase 1B to Phase 1C.

The board voted unanimously Monday to send a letter to Gianforte’s office asking him to prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations for educators and school-related personnel.

A spokesperson for Gianforte said in a statement that teachers who are over 70, have underlying conditions or are Native American or people of color are already being vaccinated.

“Governor Gianforte believes that our teachers, who have gone from teaching in front of classrooms to teaching in front of computer screens, are heroes,” the spokesperson said. “Ultimately, the changes Governor Gianforte made to the state’s vaccination plan will save lives by protecting Montanans and teachers most at risk for serious complications.”

Marilyn King, interim co-superintendent, and Chad Berg, director of special education and student health, outlined the recent changes to the vaccine distribution plan and presented a draft letter to the board.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided recommendations to state and local governments on vaccinations, including having teachers and other educators in Phase 1B of the rollout.

Montana’s initial vaccine plan included teachers, support staff and day care workers in Phase 1B, but Gianforte’s office changed it on Jan. 6. Phase 1B now includes those 70 years of age and older, individuals with a high-risk medical condition and people of color who may be at elevated risk for COVID-19 complications.

Gallatin City-County Health Department estimates there are about 25,000 to 35,000 people in the Phase 1B category.

The school board and district administration said they understood there was a scarcity of vaccines and appreciated the governor’s efforts to secure more doses for the state.

“We do not agree with the decision to move educators and school-related personnel (i.e., “frontline essential workers”) to Phase 1C,” the school board’s letter stated.

The letter asked for the district’s staff to remain in Phase 1B.

“Vaccinations are the key to getting students back to class full time and our education team are front line workers who deserve to be protected,” the letter said. “Available vaccines aren’t approved for children younger than 16 so many students will continue to pose some risk. Thus, prioritizing educators is reasonable and adds a layer of protection for these essential workers.”

During Monday’s meeting, Berg said there are some district employees who are eligible under Phase 1B, either people of color or those with a high-risk medical condition.

“It’s safe to say that our staff are anxious, particularly given the work environment of sustained indoor contact,” Berg said. “… We’re doing our best to give them access to information.”

Supply remains a big concern for the district, he said.

“Given the current supply rate, it’s anticipated it could take up to 4.8 months to work through 1B and reach 1C, where our frontline workers would be,” he said. “That would place us at the end of the school year, and I think that’s the impetus for the letter.”

As of Tuesday, the state had administered 144,271 doses and 39,763 Montanans were fully vaccinated, according to Montana’s COVID-19 dashboard. In Gallatin County, 10,811 doses of the vaccine were administered and 3,506 people were fully vaccinated.

About 50 employees in the district were vaccinated in Phase 1A, including school nurses, health aids, speech, occupational and physical therapists and school based mental health staff like counselors and psychologists.

Berg estimated another 50 staff members, including teachers and paraprofessionals that provide medically necessary special education would be vaccinated by the end of this week under the Phase 1A category.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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