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School personnel react to shot delay

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Local school personnel are disappointed — and even angry — that no area districts are among those that will receive COVID-19 vaccines next week.

The state released a list of the first counties and districts where staff will receive vaccinations, and it does not include any in the local region..

St. Clairsville-Richland City School District officials and educators pointed to the district’s commitment to continuing education since starting the school year.

“I’m happy that we’ll be getting the vaccine soon. I wish we were higher up on the list, but I understand that they’re doing the best they can with the number of vaccines they have right now,” Denise Skaggs, secretary at the high school, said. “I wish they would give it to the schools that have been in school since September since we have. We’ve tried our best to have the kids in school five days a week and if not, hybrid. But that’s OK with me, as long as we get it.”

High school Principal Justin Sleutz said parents and educators are eager for a return to normalcy.

“We’re excited to get the vaccine. We’ve had ongoing discussions with our staff about who wants it, who desires to get it,” he said. “The fact that we’re not on the list … is unfortunate, but I’m putting my faith in our county health department and the state to get enough vaccines and in the next week or two get us on a list.”

“People want kids back in school. I’m excited to get us back to school in a normal setting,” he said, adding that the district continues to have many full-time remote learners.

“There’s a little bit of disappointment from the teachers,” Ryan Clifford, president of the teachers’ union, said. “We want to be first on the list. We want to be back at school full time.”

He said the district staff’s response was “overwhelmingly” positive to a questionnaire gauging interest in receiving the vaccine.

“We’re hoping our time is coming soon,” he said. “The best way to make sure that we stay in school is to make sure that our teachers are healthy.”

He said older teachers and teachers with health concerns have been under additional stress as they adapt their teaching styles to an online format.

“We have several teachers that fit those high-risk categories and there’s that constant cloud hanging over everyone,” he said. “The vaccine could really help us, and we’re hoping it happens sometime soon.”

“We can’t wait for normalcy,” Athletic Director Luke Nelson said, adding he remained grateful for the ability to continue playing sports in Ohio, while it is not permitted in West Virginia. “We count our blessings.”

Nelson mentioned some of the restrictions athletics are under, such as reduced audience capacity and the extra caution student athletes have taken to avoid contracting and spreading the disease and be able to have a season. He added he understood the situation.

“When you look statewide, different counties are going to have to wait. The vaccine is not readily available to cover everything,” he said. “We try to be as safe as we can until vaccinations are offered.”

In the Union Local School District, education association President Joey Meholovitch said staff and parents in Eastern Ohio’s school districts have worked hard to achieve normal attendance as soon as possible and for as long as possible.

“For our efforts, we’re not getting rewarded. In fact we’re getting punished by not getting (the shot),” he said. “We all go by these color-coded maps. Well, what’s the color for being left out? … We thought there was light at the end of the tunnel, but now the tunnel’s getting extended.”

“I feel like Eastern Ohio is as important as Central Ohio, as important as Northern Ohio, and for some reason they’ve decided that Eastern Ohio isn’t going to get them,” Meholovitch said.

He added that according to the Ohio Department of Health website, the counties of Eastern Ohio have a higher infection rate per 100,000 people compared to others. He mentioned Belmont County’s 610 per 100,000 and that Monroe County has about 800 cases per 100,000, while Franklin County is at 594 per 100,000.

Franklin County’s population is 1,316,756. Belmont County’s population is 67,006 and Monroe County has a population of 13,654, according to the ODH.

“I just don’t see how their mathematics are adding up,” he said, noting that other counties often have better medical services.

“At Belmont and Monroe County, it’s not like we have a large health facility that could handle cases like they do. Most of us have to go to West Virginia in order to get health care. I just feel like they’re leaving us out.”

He said he attempted to call state offices about the matter several times Wednesday.

The Ohio Department of Education did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

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