Superintendents, unions urge Gov. Baker to speed up educators’ vaccinations

PEABODY, Mass. — Twenty-nine school superintendents and their districts’ union presidents are urging Gov. Charlie Baker to reclassify educators in the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan and allow them to receive their shots immediately, in Phase 1.

All of the administrators in the North Shore Superintendents’ Round Table, along with the union leaders, collaborated to send the letter to Baker Friday.

Educators are scheduled to start their vaccinations in Phase 2, which begins next month. But the school leaders say that timeline isn’t soon enough.

“Each day, our teachers are coming to school, and they’re prioritizing the health and safety of our students,” said Dr. Josh Vadala, superintendent of Peabody Public Schools. “They’re providing much more than an education. They’re providing our students with mental health services and as many resources as they can. We need the state to come together and prioritize our teachers the way that our teachers are prioritizing our students.”

Vadala and Salem Public Schools Superintendent Steve Zrike told reporters Friday educators are essential workers and should be prioritized as such, citing other states that have accelerated their teachers’ vaccinations, including New York, Connecticut and Maine.

“Our educators having peace of mind as they work with our students… there’s no substitute for that,” Zrike said.

Sarah Finlaw, press secretary for Baker, said in a statement Friday the administration expects Phase 2 to begin “very soon” and cited minimal in-school transmission for educators’ vaccine classification.

“Scientific research has shown there are low transmission rates in school settings, and the Administration encourages all schools to safely reopen for in-person instruction, which is the best option for learning and the well-being of students,” Finlaw said. “The Administration has provided a number of resources to districts to safely reopen, including rapid testing and a new pool testing initiative.”

The superintendents agreed with Gov. Baker and state education officials that kids need to get back in the classroom as much as possible. But they said, with spiking coronavirus cases in their communities, a fully in-person plan isn’t feasible without the vaccine.

Vadala said transmission is low because schools have followed safety guidelines and kept buildings well below capacity, but he said bringing kids fully back to soon could be dangerous.

“Those guidelines only allow us to educate a portion of the students each day, and that’s why we’re in a hybrid model,” Vadala said. “By having the vaccine, hopefully we’ll be able to close some of those distances and bring more students back.”

Most of the schools in the 29 districts are operating on a hybrid schedule. Some are fully remote, while other individual schools are fully in-person.

“We’ve listened to our teachers, and we hear them loud and clear,” Vadala said. “They want to do everything they can to get back in school, and we want to support them to do so.”

Vadala said even on a hybrid schedule, teachers still expose themselves to risk each day being in the classroom and coming into contact with many people.

“With younger students especially, it is difficult to maintain that social distancing,” Vadala said. “And when we consider educators, they’re also providing related services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy. That’s happening in our schools. And especially for those providers, it’s very difficult for them to maintain social distancing while they’re providing those much-needed therapies.”

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