The Tulalip Tribes began to vaccinate Marysville School District teachers and staff with the COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 27 in an effort to help make local schools safer.
“This is awesome being able to help out the local community and the school district in partnership with other organizations,” said Tulalip Tribal Chairwoman Teri Gobin. “This will mean our students will be able to get back to school and the teachers will remain safe."
Because the Tulalip Tribes have tribal sovereignty, they have more independence in how to distribute their supply of the vaccine than government agencies do.
With that independence, the Tulalip Tribal Council wanted to support teachers as their next phase of vaccination.
“For the next group in line we thought it was very appropriate to take care of our teachers because they take care of our kids,” said Gobin.
While the vaccine supply is free, the Tribes still had to pay for staff members to administer it.
“We have had to pull some of our health services from our health clinic to have an operation this big,” said Rochelle Lubbers, chief administrative officer with the Tulalip Tribes.
The school district has 1,200 staff members and all were invited to receive the vaccine, including bus drivers, custodians and food service workers. The decision to get the vaccinate or not was up to the staff members themselves.
The Tulalip Tribes had about 300 Marysville School District staff members scheduled for the first day of vaccination on Jan. 27.
“It’s overwhelming to see our teachers and our staff here,” said Jason Thompson, superintendent for the Marysville School District. “All of us are much safer thanks to the Tulalip Tribes."
The offer from the Tulalip Tribes did come as a bit of a surprise for the school district.
“The deputy superintendent walked into my office and said ‘I just got a call from the Tulalip Tribes and they want to vaccinate all our employees,’ and I thought it was a joke,” said Thompson.
Thompson said he had not yet gotten the vaccine but plans to.
“I want to be one of the last one of our staff to get the shot,” he said.
The sudden availability of vaccines for Marysville staff and teachers makes returning to school a safer option, said Thompson.
“It’s very tough to know that kids are expected to be at home learning. There has been some amazing work done by teachers, but everyone knows the kids are depressed,” he said. “They need interaction from other kids and they need to be in school."
Karin Weissert, a special education teacher at Marysville-Pilchuck High School who received the vaccine, said the process was simple and easy. She hopes school can return to in-person soon.
“I want everyone vaccinated because that gives us confidence and the kids confidence. They’re scared too,” she said. “Kids are suffering at home. They do better in class."
The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially hard on students in special education, she said.
“If we go back to school it’s going to be another adjustment, especially for special education kids because the transition is a lot harder,” she said.
Many staff members and officials were glad about the opportunity.
“I’m very appreciative. Especially for my staff because we have some teachers that are older and nervous,” said Mica Harasek, Pinewood Elementary’s principal.
“I’ve got a lot of teachers who have older folks who live with them and I was getting messages all day today that they are very excited,” she said.
Gobin said the Tulalip Tribes’ vaccination effort will continue beyond this, as well. Tulalip officials had already begun vaccinating local elders and first responders before contacting local teachers.
Their current operation can vaccinate about 500 people per day.
“We’re still witnessing about 60 percent of [tribal members] who want the vaccine,” said Lubbers. The goal for Tulalip officials is to vaccinate all tribal members and, although some still remain cautious, word of mouth is helping get more people to come in.
“When tribal members talk to people who have the vaccine and didn’t have an adverse experience, they’re coming in to get the vaccine after,” said Lubbers.
Gobin said the Tribes look forward to when they will begin to gather again safely.
“We’ve had too many family members pass and we don’t want any more,” she said. “We want to celebrate life together again instead of apart."