Staff photo by Troy Stolt / RN Lauren Dean fills syringes with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine inside of the pharmacy at the Hamilton County Health Department's new COVID Vaccination POD at the CARTA Bus Terminal on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

A petition sponsored by the Hamilton County Education Association calls on health officials to move into Phase 1b of COVID-19 vaccinations and coordinate with Hamilton County Schools to provide the shots at school locations.

"Much has been said over the past few months about the importance of students being in school. We are pleased with the fact that Hamilton County Schools has been successful at keeping schools open as much as possible and want to continue that work to ensure that schools can stay open. A vital part of that strategy is vaccinating educators," the petition states.

Under phases 1a1 and 1a2, some school employees such as school nurses are eligible for the vaccine, but phase 1b broadens the group to all teaching staff.

Jeanette Omarkhail, president of the union, said the petition came together last week after she started hearing from teachers taking sick days and traveling to other counties and Georgia to be vaccinated.

"We're asking in the petition that they work with Hamilton County Schools to facilitate the vaccination of educators at schools sites. That's what we want to see because we don't want teachers to continue to take time off and take a sick day and drive two hours one direction to another county because they're already giving it to educators," Omarkhail said.

Omarkhail said the petition isn't calling for teachers to be vaccinated all at once, but to start the process of vaccinating teachers who want to take it.

The school district is also taking cues from the county.

"Similar to our operational capability in standing up a school re-opening task force, a contact tracing program and conducting in-person learning for 84 days during the fall semester, we are ready for the vaccine rollout, but we are waiting on our county to transition to Phase 1b in the vaccine distribution plan so that all teachers have access," said Cody Patterson, communications officer for Hamilton County Schools, in an email.

The petition coincides with news that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will release school reopening recommendations this week, according to CNN. In Nashville, the city's COVID-19 task force announced Monday that it will be moving into phase 1b and hospitals will begin vaccinating teachers, according to The Tennessean.

David Russell, a middle school teacher in Hamilton County, shared the petition online to spread the word to community members outside of teachers.

"We can open schools right now, but if all the teachers get sick and have to go home, even if they teach virtually it's still not good for students, so having teachers be vaccinated is a way to open schools safely, and it's a way to keep schools open safely," Russell said.

Russell said he hopes to see a coordinated rollout of the vaccine so as many teachers can take the vaccine as quickly as possible.

The petition had 275 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at or 423-757-6592.