Education Health

Louisville Metro Government and its healthcare partners transformed the gym at Whitney Young Elementary School into a COVID-19 vaccination clinic this week, making it the city’s first school-based site. School principal Erica Lawrence hopes making the vaccines more accessible to her students’ families will mean more children can return to the classroom.

“I do believe that many of our families chose not to send their children back because of the vaccination status of the adults in the building. And so because of that we believe that with the increased vaccinations we will see more children return in person,” Lawrence said on Friday.

About half of students at Whitney Young, which is in the Shawnee neighborhood, have returned in person, she said. That’s lower than the average percentage of in-person students in Jefferson County Public Schools. Whitney Young’s students are overwhelmingly Black and Latinx, groups that were more likely to choose to stay remote after schools started reopening last month. 

Lawrence said that’s because many of her students live in multi-generational households, with more adults who may not be vaccinated.

“Not only their parents but their grandparents, aunts and uncles,” she said.

Families don’t want to risk a student catching the virus at school and bringing it home to a vulnerable adult. At the same time, getting a vaccine is harder for people in Louisville’s West End, many of whom are Black.

“And so this [clinic] is really important to be able to give them an opportunity to participate in the vaccine,” Lawrence said. 

Norton Medical Group chief administrative officer Joseph Flynn said Norton has been working with JCPS to reach out to parents in the area. The organization also runs a vaccine clinic at the YMCA on West Broadway.

“We really wanted to go to where the people are in the West End,” Flynn said.

He said the increased availability of the vaccine allowed the group to add this longer-term location in the West End. Most of the vaccine events in the area have been held through “pop-up” events at Black churches that last a day or two.

The site has the capacity to vaccinate more than 500 people a day. Humana is providing the nurses.

Still some think the expansion in the West End comes too late. 

Pauline Bailey, who was getting her first dose at the clinic, said she “loves” Norton and her doctors there. She said Norton reached out to her to schedule her first dose, and because she likes and trusts the organization, she agreed. But she doesn’t think the city or its healthcare partners have sufficiently prioritized the Black population.

“Why are we even last? Why wasn’t the site set up with everybody else’s?” she said.

Pauline Bailey gets her first COVID-19 vaccine at Whitney Young Elementary School.Jess Clark | wfpl.org

Pauline Bailey gets her first COVID-19 vaccine at Whitney Young Elementary School.

The city, Humana, Norton and JCPS consulted with Black Lives Matter Louisville activists to set up the Whitney Young location. But Black Lives Matter pulled its support from the clinic after other partners insisted on having a police officer on site.

“We believe that the police do not have our best interests,” Black Lives Matter organizer Shelton McElroy said. “They do not protect us, they are more destructive, and they perpetuate criminalization and inferiority among Black and brown people.”

McElroy said he worried the presence of the officer could deter people from using the clinic. The group has been signing people up for the vaccine and providing them transportation to pop-up sites. But because of the disagreement, he doesn’t think Black Lives Matter should use its resources to take people to this clinic.

Lawrence, the principal, said she requested an officer from LMPD.

“I’ve got to make sure my campus is safe, and when you have that quantity of people visiting your campus, you must have proactive measures in place to make sure that this campus is safe. We still have children coming to school here,” she said. 

The clinic will be open on the following schedule:

  • Wednesday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Thursday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Friday: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Saturday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Sundays: 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The site will take walk-ins but people are encouraged to register ahead of time online or by calling 888-777-7219. 

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.