CLEVELAND — Since the start of the pandemic, they've considered themselves essential workers, caring for the children of doctors, nurses and first responders. Now, early childhood educators like Sarah Bishop from Neighborhood Alliance are frustrated.
Early childhood educators prepare to watch their counterparts in K-12 schools get access to the coronavirus vaccine beginning Feb. 1—ahead of them.
“We were called to work as an essential worker, to be there to serve,” said Bishop.
While outlining the details of the state's Phase 1B of the vaccination rollout, Gov. Mike DeWine said child care centers are not part of Phase 1B.
The controversial decision to not include every educator in Ohio’s Phase 1B of the coronavirus roll out caught the attention of Kimberly Tice.
“As dedicated as they are, and all the stuff they do, this really does feel like a slap in the face,” said Tice.
Tice is the executive director of Ohio Association for the Education of Young Children – which advocates for caregivers of those newborn to 5 years old.
“It was an intentional decision. Thirty-nine other states have followed the CDC’s guidelines which included childcare in the 1B priority,” said Tice.
The Ohio Association for the Education of Young Children launched a Change.org petition to lobby DeWine.
“Our hope is that they will reconsider this decision and put childcare providers in the same category,” said Tice.
As for why they weren't included, the state points to a vaccine shortage.
“That’s about the only reason that we’ve heard,” said Tice.
Tice said the decision to deny early childhood educators access goes beyond safety.
Since childcare providers are primarily women of color and low wage earners, Tice said this is an equity issue.
“We brought that to their attention as well and have not received a response on that issue either,” said Tice.
Right now, despite their numbers significantly reduced because of the pandemic, there are about 30,000 to 35,000 early childhood educators on the job in Ohio.
“That to us is a very small percentage that seemingly could be included in the K-12 educators, because we know that there will be a number of people who choose not to receive the vaccine in that priority group,” said Tice.
As they continue to lobby for change, Bishop said early childhood settings continue to pose a greater risk than K-12 classrooms because of spacing.
“Changing diapers, feeding. We are in a much closer environment than the teachers are. It’s very hard in an environment with young children to keep that social distancing as much as we try,” said Bishop.
A spokesperson for DeWine told News 5 that the K-12 guideline was not based on risk—but instead all about getting students back into the classroom.
The spokesperson said there's just not enough vaccine to go around right now, and based on future supplies it is not yet clear if early childhood educators will be included in Ohio's Phase 1C roll out.