Letter, Opinion

Vaccinate the teachers

Dear Editor,

I am reaching out to urge Vermont state representatives to reconsider the prioritization of teachers in the Vermont vaccination rollout plan.

In an editorial from the NYTimes’ David Leonhardt, he outlines how and why educators must be made a priority if we actually want to reopen schools while protecting our educators, who are putting their health and wellbeing on the line to serve the Vermont community.

Here are a few  key points summarized from Leonhardt’s piece.

As I’m sure you are aware, the CDC’s latest guidance tells us that Phase 1b (following Phase 1a—healthcare personnel & long-term care facility residence), should include the following:

Frontline essential workers such as fire fighters, police officers, corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, United States Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers,

and those who work in the educational sector (teachers, support staff, and daycare workers)

People aged 75 years and older because they are at high risk of hospitalization, illness, and death from Covid-19. (People aged 75 years and older who are also residents of long-term care facilities should be offered vaccination in Phase 1a.)

However, Vermont’s rollout plan has completely neglected educators, jumping to an age-based model which will prioritize what the CDC considers Phase 1c:

People aged 65 to 74 years because they are at high risk of hospitalization, illness, and death from Covid-19.

People aged 16 to 64 years with underlying medical conditions which increase the risk of serious, life-threatening complications from COVID-19.

Other essential workers, such as people who work in transportation and logistics, food service, housing construction and finance, information technology, communications, energy, law, media, public safety, and public health.

We are being told that the spread of Covid-19 in Vermont schools has been controlled, and that our state is different from others because we have effectively opened schools with low risk to educators and students. However, this is under the current model in which many schools are operating on a hybrid schedule, with students attending school in-person only 2-3 days per week, and remote learning on the other days. This model is allowing for more effective social distancing by splitting classes in half so some students attend school in-person some days while others attend on the alternating days.

Obviously, this structure causes a serious strain on students, parents, and educators alike. It is particularly detrimental for under-funded schools serving low-income families, where, in some cases, one teacher is expected to be the sole educator for a class of combined grade levels (i.e. grade 1 and 2), while simultaneously providing one version of the curriculum to the in-person kids, and another version via virtual learning portals to the other half of the class. It isn’t hard to understand how this can and will severely worsen the education gap between children of underserved communities and children in better-funded school districts or who have the means to leave the public school system for private options.

This I’m sure is why you, @phil.scott@vermont.gov and @mark.levine@vermont.gov have communicated the importance of completely reopening Vermont schools this year, with a target on April…just a month from now.

It feels insane to think you might believe that fully reopening schools will not pose a significantly more serious risk to educators than the current hybrid learning model, but I think that must be the case given the current vaccine phasing approach in Vermont. It is absolutely appalling that teachers are not included anywhere in the current Vermont vaccination rollout plan. I hope that decision is already being seriously reconsidered.

I urge you — if your goal is truly to equitably serve all communities of Vermont — to reassess the vaccination plan and to move teachers to the top of the list immediately. As Leonhardt noted in his article, “Immediately vaccinating every school employee would push back everybody else’s vaccine by a few days at most.”

I believe this is a move that the majority of Vermonters would gladly support. Thank you for your time and consideration,

Marina S Campbell

Winooski, VT

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