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State’s largest teachers’ union urges educators be prioritized in vaccine rollout

A photo from Connecticut Education Association’s guidance document informing teachers about their rights and constraints during the COVID-19 health crisis.

Connecticut’s largest teachers union is calling on the state to prioritize educators during the next stage of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

The Connecticut Education Association launched a campaign on Wednesday called Vaccine Educators Now, emphasizing that in order to have more schools open for in-person learning, the administration of Gov. Ned Lamont should make sure that teachers will be able to receive the vaccine immediately when the next phase begins.

“If we’re going to prioritize in-person learning, then we need to prioritize getting vaccines into the arms of educators so that we can do our essential work safely,” said Kristen Record, a Bunnell High School physics teacher and 2011 Connecticut teacher of the year during Wednesday’s press conference. “Prioritizing kids right now means prioritizing the adults who work in their schools.”

There were 190 new staff cases and 644 new student cases were reported in Connecticut schools as of Feb. 10, according to state data, both numbers sharply down from the previous week. Last week, 56.3% of districts were operating under a fully in-person learning model, while 37.6% were hybrid and 6% were remote.

Educators at the press conference highlighted issues they are facing while trying to teach in-person. Rochelle Brown, a kindergarten teacher at Poquonock School in Windsor, and the 2021 teacher of the year, said keeping a 6-foot distance in classrooms is challenging, especially when working with younger students whom she has to work closely with “in order to be able to teach them their letters and their numbers and how to read.”

Another concern educators brought up is the problem of schools closing due to staff having to quarantine after being exposed to the virus. Union leaders and educators said getting teachers vaccinated could help prevent that, since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released guidance saying those who are fully vaccinated no longer have to quarantine after exposure.

“I want to say we are just asking what leaders across the country are saying as well, which is the nation of educators, those who are working with our young people in difficult conditions, and with great stress and anxiety, the vaccine will bring another layer of protection, along with other mitigation strategies to the staff, all the staff who work with our children, our students every single day,” said CEA President Jeff Leake.

President Joe Biden said during a CNN Town Hall on Tuesday that teachers need to be getting vaccinated and should move up “in the hierarchy as well,” and, so far, nearly half of the states in the U.S. have allowed teachers to be vaccinated.

But in Connecticut, teachers and school staff are waiting alongside child care employees, grocery store workers and people with underlying health conditions to get vaccinated, potentially sometime within the next month.

Executive director of the Connecticut Childhood Alliance Merrill Gay said that while getting teachers vaccinated is important, child care workers have also been taking care of kids throughout the pandemic, having a lot more direct contact with children.

“It’s an equity issue that childcare workers are paid a whole lot less than public school teachers [and] are far more likely to be people of color who have been substantially more impacted by [the pandemic]. And while we completely empathize with the concerns of public school teachers, we think the child care workers need to be put in the same category,” he said.

During a Tuesday press conference, Lamont said his administration expects to outline details in 10 days about the next phase of vaccine eligibility.

“CDC has narrowed the group of essential workers to a number that we can maybe get all of them vaccinated in three weeks, give or take,” Lamont said. “I think it’s really important that list of essential workers as determined by the Centers for Disease Control all have access to the vaccines probably starting as soon as two weeks or so.”

State officials pushed back sharply last month when the Pomperaug Health District vaccinated more than 300 teachers and staff during the first phase of the vaccine rollout, which was supposed to focus on residents 75 and older.

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