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Minnesota Republicans propose moving teachers, administrators towards the front of the line for COVID-19 vaccine

Senator Michelle Benson says it's because of the adverse effects distance learning is having on student mental health.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Republican lawmakers are unveiling a bill to ensure teachers are some of the first to get the vaccine - even ahead of first responders.

Senator Michelle Benson says that it is critical teachers get the vaccine so quickly because of the adverse effects distance learning is having on student mental health.

And is why she says it's imperative they get back into the classroom quickly.

"With respect to first responders, the reason I chose to move teachers up is because I've seen the mental health impact this is having on our kids," said Sen. Benson. 

This fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention formally recognized educators, utilities, food and agriculture, police, firefighters, corrections officers and transportation as essential workers in the 1B category - the group likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine after health care workers and people in long-term care facilities who the CDC says are in the 1A group.

Representative Peggy Scott says, "Distance learning is just not the same. Kids need to be in the classroom, they need their teachers." 

The lawmakers didn't provide data on Tuesday's Zoom call, but says there are "lots of stories" of students dropping out of distance learning, contributing to falling enrollment - while one high schooler told his story and those of his classmates who report feeling depressed.

"I even don't feel like myself sometimes," said Grant Higgins, a senior at Anoka High School. "It's just a melancholy, clock in, clock out; every single day is the same."

Higgins went on to say, "Students are isolated and lonely and they’re feeling depressed and anxious and most are just struggling to get through their day."

The Republican's bill doesn't make teachers get the vaccine. It does recommend the state's 72,000 licensed staff, plus para-professionals be able to voluntarily get it sooner rather than later. 

"The reality is we need to bring them to the table and figure out how big and how fast and how many need to have the vaccination so we can get kids into school safely and in a speedy fashion," explained Representative Ron Kresha.

The lawmakers say they plan to introduce the bill in the special session Governor Walz will likely call next week. 

It's ultimately up to him and the Minnesota Department of Health to prioritize what groups the CDC recommends get the first available doses. 

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