ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Several of Missouri Teachers of the Year are pleading for all school staff to be prioritized in Missouri's vaccination rollout, urging the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to consider the fact that vaccinating teachers is critical for the betterment of kids and the community.
"We've all agreed that our students' education is a top priority in the state of Missouri, so I think it's just as important that our actions align to that," Shelly Parks, Missouri's 2019 Teacher of the Year said, adding that vaccinations for school staff are necessary and must happen fast.
The state's 2018 teacher of the year, Beth Davey, is also calling for school staff to be moved up on the priority list.
"Teachers and school staff will best serve kids when they are healthy," Davey explained. "As a community, as a St. Louis region, as a state, to come alongside that main goal of serving kids."
With more than 95 percent of Missouri state-funded schools teaching kids in person, Parks and Davey say it's crucial for the success of students. Local teacher unions are backing them.
"The children can't be vaccinated, but we can. So, we're not just advocating for teachers. It's custodians, cafeteria ladies, everyone in schools should be in the front line, like first responders," said Byron Clemons, who is with the American Federation of Teachers for the St. Louis region. His team is also pleading with the health department and Governor Mike Parson to change vaccination priority.
"As we look at the message that the vaccine rollout is sending, even if it's because of a shortage or all of the complexities with this issue, I continue wondering how Missouri will continue thriving if we do not have those quality, great teachers in classrooms," Davey said.
Davey and Parks want to make it clear that they're not speaking for every single teacher in Missouri. They just want to advocate for those who want, and some who desperately need, a vaccine.
"I think every decision we make sends a message to our current educators and our future educators, and I want that to be a positive one," Parks said.
Governor Parson's office has not changed the vaccination priority yet. St. Louis Pandemic Task Force leader Dr. Alex Garza told News 4 it could be late spring or early summer before teachers are vaccinated.