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The miseducation of Charlie Baker: Teachers need the vaccine

The administration’s rant of a statement on teachers says more about him than them

Governor Baker talked with a kindergarten student at West Parish School in Gloucester.Nancy Lane/Pool

Somebody needs to school Governor Charlie Baker.

You cannot demand students return to class without a proactive plan to protect the teachers who are not only educating children, but are taking care of them throughout the day.

And demonizing hard-working teachers risking their lives in his rush to reopen schools is ridiculous. Hiding behind his senior adviser, Tim Buckley, he, how would Michelle Obama put it? Went low.

“The teachers’ unions continue to demand the Commonwealth take hundreds of thousands of vaccines away from the sickest, oldest and most vulnerable residents in Massachusetts and divert them to the unions’ members, 95 percent of which are under age 65,” Buckley said Thursday.


What the union leaders asked for is the Last Mile Vaccine Delivery Proposal. Under the proposal, the doses already designated for educators could be distributed to local communities and facilitated by firefighters and nurses rather than sending teachers through the mass vaccination sites.

It’s not a greedy ask to want to safely expedite and localize the process. They weren’t trying to thieve from the elderly.

“It is sad, and frankly, reckless that on the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down our state, Governor Charlie Baker is pitting one vulnerable group against another,” a joint reply from the Massachusetts Teachers Association, AFT-Massachusetts, and Boston Teachers Union read.

The administration is creating a narrative to divert attention from its inability to prioritize public health meaningfully.

Reminder: The Baker-Polito statement pointed to the teachers being mostly under 65 as some sort of healthy shield, playing into the myth that younger people don’t get seriously ill or die from the virus. It also ignores the fact that many of them have families to go home to, parents to take care of, and entire lives of people they are responsible for outside of the classroom.


While the sick and elderly and especially those in group homes do need to be front and center in the rollout, it’s worth noting not everyone over 64 is unhealthy, in assisted living, and unable to quarantine a little while longer.

Nuance. Try it, governor. Perhaps if Baker hadn’t been so busy packing his pandemic advisory board with business leaders, he would be less defensive and more sympathetic to the valid concerns of educators.

Last month, Baker insisted it was time to bring remote learning to a close. Yet it wasn’t until a week ago, under federal authority, that Baker fell in line with what his administration called “reasonable efforts to prioritize educator vaccinations.”

Real generous, Charlie. Less spin and more truth: Counting on kids to wear their masks correctly, to maintain 6 feet of distance — oh, I mean 3 feet — and for everything to go just right while teachers go unvaccinated and are expected to gamble with their lives, is reckless.

Sure, evidence suggests schools aren’t COVID-19 hot spots. Until they are.

In Florida, there were 21 new coronavirus infections and hundreds of exposures reported in Manatee Public Schools on Monday. One might say well, Florida is going to Florida. Except, nah.

In Maine, the state with one of the nation’s lowest COVID-19 infection rates, the school district covering Cumberland and North Yarmouth is on outbreak status. It doesn’t stop there. Over the last 30 days, there were 481 cases reported among students and staff across Maine. Over 40 schools are undergoing outbreak investigations.


There are already variants of the virus. If we aren’t safe, it could further mutate before we vaccinate.

Baker wants us back to business and all students in class? Perhaps a thorough vaccination rollout, a working website, and way more consultations with epidemiologists should have come before relaxing pandemic capacity limits.

As of March 1, with only our most vulnerable and our essential workers in the midst of being vaccinated, Baker announced the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions.

Indoor venues, like concert halls and theaters, can open at half capacity up to 500 people. Restaurants no longer have a limited capacity. Six people can sit at a table. And in less than two weeks, the arenas can open at 12 percent capacity, a few thousand folk in some instances.

Celebratory gatherings will be on again, too. Couples can host indoor weddings of up to 100 people. You think they are going to be masked and distant on the dance floor?

We’re headed toward the other side of this virus. Numbers are way down. Things are looking hopeful. But we aren’t in the clear quite yet.

Over the last few weeks, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as Dr. Anthony Fauci, have warned against this type of disregard for the very real dangers we still face.

“It’s important to remember where we are in the pandemic. Things are tenuous,” said Walensky, a member of the state’s economic Reopening Advisory Board and the former head of infectious diseases at MGH. “Now is not the time to relax restrictions.”


Things are getting better. But we’re still averaging about 1,000 new cases of coronavirus a day in this state. Thursday, that meant 1,589 new cases and 42 deaths. The pandemic is still a pandemic.

Making it easier for people to party inside before we’ve reached the general public phase of this rollout is a blueprint for a big, infectious mess of coronavirus. Forcing schools to reopen and vilifying teachers for wanting vaccines is foolish at best, cruel at worst.

If anyone is not doing the math, it’s Baker.

Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com. Follow her @sincerelyjenee and on Instagram @abeautifulresistance.