Now vaccine eligible, Anchorage teachers ready to get back to class

Elizabeth Dick, 53, waits in the waiting area of a local clinic after getting the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. “I have been confined to my house for almost a year now of just being extremely careful and to teach high school, and haven’t even really wanted to teach in the building because people had different understandings early on of what was proper and not proper mask wearing. So it’s been very, very cautious. I’m excited,” Dick said. (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

Teachers across the state became eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines Thursday. Many jumped at the chance to grab an appointment.

“Excited, relieved. Definitely felt like I won the lottery,” said Elizabeth Dick, a high school German teacher in the Anchorage School District.

Dick got her first dose of the vaccine Thursday afternoon at a local clinic.

She and other teachers had been intensely watching vaccine appointment websites, anticipating when the state would move to the next tier.

One day she noticed hundreds of appointment slots appear at the Alaska Airlines Center, and shared her observation with other teachers in a group chat. A colleague shared they had heard from a pharmacist that the state was opening vaccine eligibility to all teachers. It would be a change to the initial eligibility plan, which originally separated teachers into different groups.

“So then everyone started watching,” Dick said. “And as soon as that press release dropped, they were all instantly on the phone making their appointments, and just so excited.”

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Dick said she’s been confined to her house for the better part of a year, missing birthdays and holidays and not allowing anyone inside, fearing getting sick with COVID.

But now she’s looking forward to seeing her students in-person and feeling more comfortable with the extra protection.

Dick said she wishes elementary teachers also could have waited to return to the classroom until they were eligible for the vaccine. Elementary students returned to in-person learning about three weeks ago. 

The Anchorage teachers’ union asked the school district to align its reopening schedule with vaccine distribution, but the district forged ahead. 

Union President Corey Aist said the new eligibility criteria is welcome.

“Is there an ease of tension? I think every mitigation strategy that we can add to the toolbox helps teachers feel more comfortable in space that they are working in,” Aist said. “So it’s not going to appease every educator’s concerns, but it’s going to help most educators.”

Aist said the union still has concerns. It filed a grievance with the district, citing workplace safety issues including poor air circulation in some school buildings. The grievance is still active, Aist said. 

All Anchorage elementary students now have the option to return to in-person school. In-person learning for middle and high school students is set to begin March 15.