Mass. Teachers Look Ahead to Education After Vaccination

A day after President Joe Biden said he wanted all educators to receive at least one shot of the coronavirus vaccine by the end of March, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced teachers would be eligible next week

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Fifth-grade teacher Deb McCarthy says she'll feel better about being in class once she gets the vaccine.

"I have been engaged in in-person learning since September, four days a week, Wednesday is remote," she said. "Safe teachers make for safe students, safe students make for safe schools, and safe schools make for safe communities."

But McCarthy wants to get the vaccine in her school district in Hull, Massachusetts, and not have to spend hours online trying to book an appointment or driving to a mass vaccination site.

"It is critical that time not be wasted and that our time is better served teaching students," she said.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association has proposed its own vaccination plan, teaming up with nurses, firefighters and EMTs to vaccinate teachers at every school district.

"It's an onsite program where we control the registration so it's efficient, it's effective, we want the governor to join us in that plan," said Merrie Najimy, the MTA president.

It's a plan that would allow teachers to forgo the online booking system.

"We can solve the problem of the debacle of the vaccine rollout," said Najimy.

The union says the idea hasn't been rejected, but so far, Gov. Charlie Baker has not signed on.

Superintendents in Middlesex County have ideas, as well. They're asking the state to have teachers vaccinated in school on a Friday in order to minimize school day disruption and to allow teachers a couple of days to recover from any issues.

For now, though, teachers will have to search for appointments online, like everyone else, which could jeopardize President Joe Biden's goal of having every teacher vaccinated by the end of March.

"Unless we get a significant amount of additional supply, it's going to take a while for people to work their way through the system," Baker said Wednesday.

Teachers and day care providers have been moved up in coronavirus vaccine eligibility in Massachusetts, with Gov. Charlie Baker saying they can start signing up for appointments on March 11.

Still, Najimay praised the move to allow educators to receive the vaccine beginning March 11.

"In the end, it's going to get us to reach the goal that we all want, which is full, in-person learning," she said.

But it is unclear when exactly that will happen. The MTA says it is working toward April.

State Sen. Eric Lesser said he hopes it will happen "certainly by the end of the school year, if not even earlier than that."

But there are those who feel, with just a few months left in the academic year and lingering concerns of a fourth COVID-19 wave, there should be a wait until the fall for a fresh start to full-time, in-person school.

"I don't think anybody involved in education would dismiss a quarter of the school year as somehow no big deal," Lesser said.

Massachusetts General Hospital child psychologist Ellen Braaten agrees.

"If we were talking about a month or two-and-a-half weeks, that's one thing," she said. "But this is a good part of the school year. And also, it sets them up then for next year."

Braaten has seen an increase in anxiety, depression and social skill development among children. She says those with learning disabilities are suffering the most.

"Even if there isn't a ton of learning happening, and I still hope there is, but it helps kids just with that transition of being with friends again, processing all of the things that they've lost over the last year," she said.

An MTA poll of teachers shows 90% are comfortable going back into the classroom — even after just the first of the two shots.

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