Optimism reigned just two weeks ago as Everett sought out to be the first community in the state to prioritize its educators for the COVID-19 vaccine in order to get kids back in school, but those hopes have all been squashed this week as Gov. Charlie Baker refused to provide the vaccine to the City as teachers are not yet allowed to be vaccinated in Phase 2 of his program.
Now, Supt. Priya Tahiliani said the clock is ticking on getting kids back to school, and on Monday she suggested it might be time to consider going back to school without a vaccine – such as state education officials have suggested. Meanwhile, the Everett Teachers Association (ETA) on Monday said within a 30-minute presentation they would not want to go back unless they had the vaccine and other case number indicators had gone down.
It hits a sour note, as nearly 56 percent of parents – particularly parents that speak a second language – feel comfortable sending their kids back to in-person school this month. That contrasts more than 70 percent of ETA members who would return, but with great reservation.
Now, the hopeful Everett Public School (EPS) plan to get kids back in school lies in ruin for the moment.
“Our plans, unfortunately, they have been delayed at the state level,” said Tahiliani on Monday night at the School Committee meeting.
“The state has changed its guidelines for the COVID-19 vaccine,” she said. “This has unfortunately prevented us from being able to facilitate a vaccine clinic for EPS teachers and staff. Our hope was for teachers to receive it this weekend. Now that timetable has been thrown in flux and we have to adjust on the fly.”
She said Mayor Carlo DeMaria and the City’s Health Department advocated and did everything they could to try to secure the doses needed to get the EPS teachers and staff inoculated and on target to go back in March. However, she said the state had tightened up the reins on the vaccine, and just wouldn’t allow Everett to do what it was planning to do.
She said now there is no date or timetable for a return according to the previous plan, and she said it is necessary to keep in mind the majority of parents who said they wanted to send their kids back to school. She said it might be time to think about teachers and staff coming back without the vaccine.
“If we do not move on hybrid learning as fast as we reasonably can, it does mean we are not responding to a very significant percentage of our families,” she said.
“We have been cautious and deliberate in our approach to the pandemic,” she continued. “I think we have reached the next juncture where we need to commit to launching our hybrid plan. If we need to consider doing this regardless of whether we can offer vaccine clinics to staff, and it was our best intention to do so, but the clock is ticking and we do kind of need to decide what our plan is for this school year. The next few weeks are going to be critical in determining what we can offer our students in the last three or four months of the school year.”
That, however, was not on the mind of the ETA. In a presentation by President Kim Auger and ETA Board Member Anna Seiders, they presented how teachers have found success in remote learning, and that there are major concerns among their membership about returning without a vaccine.
Auger said they have done surveys of hundreds of members and found that 60 percent would return with reservations without a vaccine, and 19 percent would not return and take a waiver. Only 7 percent of teachers surveyed were ready to return now as is.
A major worry for teachers is not only for themselves and their families, but rather all the families of EPS – including the families of the students. Many teachers at the Jan. 19 meeting expressed concern that students live in multi-generational households and could bring the virus home from school to a vulnerable grandparent.
Auger reiterated that concern Monday night as well.
The ETA is calling for several items to be cleared before they would return. Those items include:
•5 percent or lower positivity rate (Everett is just above 10 percent now).
•Three straight weeks of downward trending cases.
•Below 20 cases per 100,000 people.
•Decline in the cases within the school-age population.
“We do feel we need to have both vaccinations before coming back to any teaching and learning environment,” said Auger.
School Committee members were markedly frustrated, but mostly at the state for moving the measuring stick in the midst of measuring.
“I’m questioning the hypocrisy of all this because it doesn’t make sense,” said Abruzzese of the state’s change of mind. “I got a letter from the courts where I work saying for all state workers to remain remote until June 1, but he’s also telling us to get kids in school. There are lines crossing here that don’t make sense to me. I’m in support of everything said her tonight, but I’m questioning the leadership nationally and state-wise as to what’s going on here.”
School Committeewoman Dana Murray said it is simply a state issue, and that 26 other states have prioritized teachers, but not Massachusetts.
“We’ve made a decision in this state to move teachers to the back of the line,” she said. “I’m very, very angry right now.”
Said School Committeeman Marcony Almeida Barros, “I am very concerned with the mental health of our students, especially in Everett where many students are low-income and a lot of parents are not there to help the with remote learning,” he said. “That’s why I’m concerned about mental health and why I’m very interested in moving to hybrid when it’s safe for everybody.”