Everett had a plan to get some 7,500 children back to school by March: Vaccinate their teachers at the same time that people who are 75 and over were getting access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
But because of vaccination priority rules set by Governor Charlie Baker, Mayor Carlo DeMaria couldn’t get the doses he needed, so Everett’s plan fell apart. When the judgment involved “closing the schools, he [Baker] always wanted us to make the decisions,” said DeMaria in an interview. But the mayor can’t do what he wants to do to open them: “These kids need to get back to school. Now. Today,” said DeMaria. If vaccination makes teachers “feel more comfortable, let’s do it,” he said.
Everett is one of 20 communities listed by the state as hardest hit by COVID-19. Two statewide teachers unions — the Massachusetts Teachers Association and American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts — are asking the state to support a rapid vaccination plan for school employees working in communities that fit that hardest-hit category.
“To say teachers have to be in school as essential workers, but not be acknowledged as front-line workers when it comes to vaccines, is frustrating. It doesn’t make sense,” said Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, which has signed onto a letter asking the state to support the rapid vaccination plan.
Teachers are also getting support from House Speaker Ronald Mariano, a former teacher and Quincy School Committee member, who recently said educators should be moved ahead. I agree — and I’m one of those boomers who eagerly awaits my turn to get vaccinated.
On Wednesday, the state expanded vaccine eligibility to people 65 and older, residents and staff of low-income and affordable senior housing, and individuals with two or more health conditions. At a press conference, Baker said that covers about 1 million people and, given the limited vaccine supply, will take at least a month to administer. There’s no exception for teachers.
Some see the push from powerful unions as either an evil plot to keep older, more vulnerable citizens from getting the vaccine or a selfish one to keep schools closed forever. I don’t. Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urge school districts to reopen and say it can be done safely before all staff members are inoculated. But the research isn’t absolute. Besides, 11 months of horrific reports about people dying terrible deaths from COVID-19 has stoked fears in everyone, no matter what the science says. Some of us have the luxury to work from home and stay safe; others don’t.
Getting children back to school — for the sake of their education and mental health — deserves special consideration. If that means getting teachers vaccinated — especially in cities like Everett, which has a large at-risk population — so be it. “The Black and brown kids are suffering the most,” said DeMaria. “Let’s make it a priority where there are more children who are more susceptible” to learning loss and mental health issues.
What about grocery and funeral home workers and everyone else who considers themselves front-line workers and want the vaccine now? They have a right to feel the state let them down too. The reality is that Baker’s rules are broken every day. Everyone knows of people under 75 who got e-mails and phone calls telling them about unused shots. No matter what the governor decrees, vaccines are being given out to people in the know.
Baker’s take-a-senior-to-get-a-shot program opened a new avenue for the young and desperate. Why shouldn’t there be an avenue for teachers too? However, if they get such a path, it should lead directly back to work in the classroom, with proper safety procedures, including mask-wearing, sanitation, and social distancing.
Overall, the vaccine roll-out in Massachusetts has been a well-documented debacle, especially disappointing given Baker’s supposed managerial skill and health care background. A governor who is used to being praised is now taking unusual heat from everyone. Including from Mayor DeMaria, who is willing to take the heat himself. “I love the governor,” said DeMaria. “I just think it makes common sense to open this up.” As the father of a 12-year-old daughter, he said he knows from personal experience that children are suffering.
As to pushback from people who don’t like his plan: “Let me hold my own,” DeMaria said.
The governor should take him up on it.