Teachers to get 15K more vaccines this week as Walz rolls out education priorities 

A speech-language pathologist sits behind a barrier while holding an iPad.
Maren Kind, a speech-language pathologist at North Elementary in St. Peter, Minn., shows a student a Star Wars character while working with students from behind a large piece of plexiglass. Some of the state's youngest learners returned to school buildings this month for in-person learning.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News file

Updated: 5:57 p.m.

Another 15,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been earmarked for Minnesota teachers and child care workers this week, and state officials are planning to open a new distribution site near the Xcel Energy Center. 

The new St. Paul distribution site expands on nine pilot sites that opened in Minnesota last week, and the additional doses for educators more than doubles last week’s 6,000 allocation. 

The doses will be administered at the Xcel site over a five-day stretch, from Thursday to Monday. The slots still represent just a small fraction of the estimated 250,000 child care workers and educators across the state.

The changes come as many of the state’s elementary schools that were in distance learning mode are reopening to students. Most teachers who returned to full classrooms last week still had yet to be vaccinated. Teachers unions, including those representing some of the largest districts in the state, have been staging demonstrations urging district leaders to delay the resumption of in-person classes next month.

The rules for which educators qualify for vaccines remain the same. Both public and private school teachers are eligible and should ask their employers about getting the vaccine. School administrators have been given guidance from state officials on how to prioritize staff for distribution. 

Child care workers have also been directed to ask their employers about receiving the vaccine, and state officials have been randomly selecting providers to begin distributing the vaccine to employees. Licensed in-home family providers are included in this most recent expansion of vaccine eligibility, but nannies and babysitters currently are not.

Metro-area educators and child care workers who are granted a vaccination appointment this week will all be directed to receive their doses at Roy Wilkins Auditorium Exhibition Hall, which is inside Saint Paul RiverCentre and next to the Xcel Energy Center.

Minnesota is one of 21 U.S. states that has made some or all teachers eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine, according to a report from Education Week. But the number of vaccines available to educators and child care workers is far surpassed by demand for vaccinations. 

Also on Monday, Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan unveiled new details of the “Due North Education Plan,” which they said will help close some of Minnesota’s stubborn inequities and make sure all students have a “world-class” education no matter their skin color or ZIP code.

The Minnesota Department of Education is establishing an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Center. Interviews for a director position are already under way. The plan is to lean on this office to improve the way Minnesota schools teach Indigenous history and develop and provide training for all school staff on anti-bias practices.

But the announcement was short on specifics. When reporters asked about a price tag to pursue these priorities, Walz said there would be more budget details Tuesday.

And Assistant Education Commissioner Heather Mueller specifically said this plan is not about holding schools accountable if they didn’t meet these goals; it’s about giving them more tools to support schools in making this happen. 

Walz, a former teacher, has long said education was a priority for him during his time in office. 

The announcements come as 17 percent of Minnesota public schools are in in-person learning models. The majority of Minnesota’s public high schools remain in distance or hybrid learning models, and many elementary schools are transitioning to in-person learning, following a change in state guidance on how to bring students back to the classroom during the pandemic. 

Correction (Jan. 26, 2021): An earlier version of this story misidentified Maren Kind’s title in a caption. The story has been updated.

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