State Rep. Penny Morales Shaw, the area's new representative in Austin, is leading a push among legislators to put teachers and other school staff near the front of the line for COVID-19 vaccinations.

In a Thursday letter addressed to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt, Morales Shaw and 34 other state representatives asked health authorities to include all public school employees in the group of people who can next receive the vaccine. Since the state began distributing vaccine doses last month, only frontline healthcare workers, residents of long-term care facilities and people over age 65 or with chronic medical conditions have been eligible to receive them.

The aforementioned priority group includes school nurses, school police officers and school employees who screen people for COVID-19, but not teachers and other campus staff.

"This month, teachers and students returned to the classroom after the holiday break as the number of Texans hospitalized with the coronavirus reached new records," the letter stated. "Teachers and staff will be at great risk of contracting COVID-19 and deserve the opportunity to voluntarily receive the vaccine. We respectfully request that members of the COVID-19 Expert Allocation Panel give all teachers and school support staff this chance so that they may continue their service as educators to the children and families of Texas."

RELATED: HISD approves paid COVID leave for employees

Morales Shaw was elected in November as the state representative for District 148, which includes the Heights, Garden Oaks and Oak Forest areas. The biennial Texas Legislature session convened earlier this week in Austin.

According to Houston ISD's COVID-19 dashboard, there were a total of 75 active cases at 20 area campuses as of Friday, with 38 of those cases among students and 37 among staff. The local schools with active cases are Heights and Scarborough high schools, Frank Black, Clifton, Hamilton, Hogg and Williams middle schools and Crockett, Durham, Field, Garden Oak Montessori Magnet, Helms, Highland Heights, Love, Oak Forest, Sinclair, Smith, Stevens, Travis and Wainwright elementary schools.

HISD announced Tuesday night that Crockett, which serves the Sawyer Yards area, would temporarily close its third- and fourth-grade classrooms because of COVID-19. The campus has three active cases among staff and one among students, according to HISD's online dashboard.

After starting the 2020-21 school year exclusively with remote, online learning, HISD reopened campuses in October.

The HISD board of trustees recently approved a proposal by interim superintendent Grenita Lathan to restore paid leave for employees infected with or exposed to COVID-19. Those benefits, provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), had expired Dec. 31.

"Since Texas schools reopened for in-person learning, districts across the state have temporarily closed campuses after outbreaks, mourned the loss of educators and staff, and witnessed firsthand the challenges of returning to the classroom during a pandemic," stated the letter from Morales Shaw and other representatives. "... We stand ready to work with you to protect Texas educators and mitigate the spread of COVID-19."

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