Minnesota's plan to vaccinate as many teachers as supply would allow this week led to a farcical situation that resulted in some school districts missing out completely.
On Monday, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) gave every school district and charter school an allotment for a "recommended" number of staff they should invite to register for an appointment to get a COVID-19 vaccine this week.
On Tuesday, superintendents were instructed to wait until 6 p.m. to send an appointment registration link by email, supposedly making it a fair playing field for prioritized staff who would then need to rush to the link, register and hope to get one of the 8,720 appointments available for teachers at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul starting Thursday.
But the system swiftly descended into a fiasco as some districts gave their teachers a heads up that emails would be arriving at 6 p.m. while others didn't, so the teachers given notice had an advantage when it came to signing up for appointments.
And while some districts sent out emails on or close to 6 p.m. – such as Anoka-Hennepin, Wayzata, and Roseville – teachers in other districts didn't get theirs until well after.
A teacher in Eden Prairie told BMTN they didn't get theirs till 6:17 p.m. and they found themselves behind more than 11,000 in line, while some Mounds View teachers didn't get theirs till 6:41 p.m.
What's more, some school districts didn't just send the appointment link to staff who should be prioritized for a vaccine, but to all staff, and in some cases even former employees.
Another major problem arose because the password was the same for every district, and it was shared around between teachers and could even be used by non-school staff to apply for an appointment, though the state has said proof of employment would be required on the day.
The 8,720 doses for metro educators are just over half the 15,000 doses that will be available during a five-day mass vaccination event held Thursday through Monday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The rest of the 15,000 will go to metro area child care workers.
"At 6 p.m., registration opened for anyone who had received the link from their school leader. In some instances, we have learned that more than the recommended number of staff within a given organization received the link, which may have been due to staff members forwarding the link to other staff," said Ashleigh Norris, assistant director of communications with the MDE.
One district that had staff share the email link with staff who weren't on the mailing list is St. Paul Public Schools. According to the Star Tribune, two high school principals from the district shared the link, "resulting in people signing up who weren't invited."
Norris said every location for the state's vaccination pilot program is fully booked with a significant waitlist. The mad dash for an appointment resulted in thousands of teachers being placed on a waitlist.
"We are reviewing registrations to ensure everyone who registered is a school staff member," said Norris. "Those with appointments will need to provide proof of employment when they arrive for their vaccine."
Mounds View Superintendent Chris Lennox sent a letter to staff Wednesday saying he was under the impression that zero communication about the vaccine registration and prioritized employees could be provided to staff prior to 6 p.m. Tuesday.
"As soon as we received the information yesterday, our staff worked to prepare and personalize the notification as quickly as possible and finalize the list of prioritized employees. We were also told that no communication could be sent out in advance of 6 p.m., and that recipients should not share the appointment link with others. It now appears as though these guidelines were not honored by everyone who received the information from MDE," Lennox wrote.
Bring Me The News has not learned of any districts sending the registration link earlier than 6 p.m., though some districts did instruct employees to be on the lookout for the link ahead of time.
Lennox said Mounds View was informed Monday by MDE that it had been allocated 564 vaccine doses, noting that MDE never "communicated to us that our allocation may not be honored."
Norris informed BMTN that MDE had to ensure that all appointments would be filled so it "did not guarantee any vaccine appointments for any specific school district, charter school, nonpublic or tribal school" – and that vaccines were allocated by region of the state, and a school’s proportion of staff within its region.
Educators and child care workers who were waitlisted this week might have to go through the registration process again next week.
"This will depend on how we structure registration in the future. Each week, we’re learning and refining. We’re going to do our best to roll the waitlist into future weeks," said Norris.
The doses made available to teachers and child care workers next week has not been announced and will depend on what Minnesota receives from the federal government.
Melissa Turtinen and Adam Uren contributed to this story.