MATTAPAN, Mass. — This is a pivotal week for Mike Hart; the Boston Public School teacher not only got his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but he’ll be teaching at least some of his 8th-grade students in an actual classroom Monday instead of completely over the Internet.
“I miss my students a lot,” said Hart, who teaches at Up Academy, a charter school in South Boston. “It’s hard to look at black squares on a Zoom.”
Evidently, his students have gotten tired of Zooming it too.
“I know a lot of kids who didn’t necessarily want to go to school every day before this are very excited to get back into the building,” Hart said.
Hart was one of 200 Boston Public School teachers and staff members signed up for initial COVID-19 shots at the first clinic dedicated entirely to their immunization.
“There’ll be about 1,000 folks through here this week,” said Boston Chief of Health and Human Services Marty Martinez. “Another 1,000 folks through here next week.”
Martinez called the clinic, held at the Gallivan Community Center in Mattapan, a ‘priority group clinic,’ explaining it is one of four types of vaccine distribution sites within the city; the others include mass sites, those based in the community (such as pharmacies) and mobile sites.
“This is about essential workers,” Martinez said. “Essential workers who work in our schools. We’re eager for the next wave of essential workers to become eligible who’ve been working throughout this pandemic, and we really want to make sure we create that access.”
That access for Boston Public School workers comes as more students get set to return to the classroom beginning this week. Kindergarten through Grade 3 students have had the option since March 1. Now, students in Grades 4-8 will be allowed back. Boston School Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said, by the end of the month, the plan is to get high schoolers back to in-person learning, as well.
“Not everybody’s doing high school,” Cassellius said. “But we think it’s really important to get our high schoolers back in school as soon as possible.”
The fact at least some teachers will be vaccinated as more students return will be gravy on top of COVID-19 mitigation efforts already undertaken, Cassellius suggested, as she pointed out that the CDC has not listed ‘vaccinated teachers’ as a requirement for a safe return to the classroom.
Non-pharmaceutical efforts have included limiting bodies in schools, stepping up student testing, masking, use of personal protective equipment, and improving air quality and circulation.
“We think it is safe for our kids to come back to school,” Cassellius said. “We have research and science to support that. And if families are ready to bring their children back, we’re ready to welcome them back to school.”
While teachers and other BPS staff are not required to get vaccinated, Casselius is encouraging them to do so, not only as a school mitigation effort, but one that affects the entire city and state.
Sohanni Ozuna-Pereza, a teacher in the Kindergarten through Grade 2 age group, needed no convincing. She said it’s been very hard trying to reach 5- and 6-year-olds through virtual learning.
“Not being able to be close to them or even grab their hands or help them out when they need assistance,” she said.
Getting her first dose of vaccine meant a return, Ozuna-Perez said, of, “happiness and joy.”
True happiness and joy, for parents, educators and many others, would be a return to normalcy as soon as possible. To that end, BPS administrators already have their eyes on the next school year. Casselius said future plans won’t be dependent on teacher vaccination levels but on the level of COVID-19 in the community.
“If the level stays low and we have the vaccines and we have the mitigation and the masking and the social distancing, and we can fit all of our students into school, then that’s our goal,” Casselius said. “So, we are striving for in-person summer school and in-person school this fall.”
The clinic will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays and from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for the next two weeks.
After that, the clinic will close. It will reopen three weeks later to give teachers and staff members their second doses.
Eligible workers must make an appointment online and enter their BPS credentials – walk-ins are not allowed.
BPS is also partnering with the Boston Teachers Union to offer a second vaccine clinic at the BTU Hall in Dorchester. That location will open when more vaccine doses become available.