Boston Herald

Will vaccines get teachers back in school?


What will it take to get teachers back in Massachuse­tts classrooms?

President Joe Biden is betting on vaccines to do the trick, and on Tuesday announced he would be using the powers of the federal government to direct all states to prioritize vaccinatin­g teachers, and said the federal government would provide the doses directly through its pharmacy program, the Associated Press reported. He challenged states to administer at least one dose of the vaccine to all educators by the end of March as part of his administra­tion’s efforts to reopen more schools across the nation.

It seems simple — once teachers get the vaccine they will embrace in-person learning.

But nothing has been simple in matters of education during the coronaviru­s pandemic.

In August, when the notion of returning to schools in the fall seemed viable, the focus was on social distancing and more importantl­y, air quality.

As WCVB reported, schools around Massachuse­tts updated their heating, ventilatio­n and air conditioni­ng systems. Teachers unions called for regular and independen­t air quality checks.

“How old is the heating system? Is there air conditioni­ng? Is it going to be off ? How much air is coming in from outside?” asked Beth Kontos, president of the American Federation of Teachers Massachuse­tts. “What is the filter system? Is it the highest level of filtration they can offer us? Some of the HVAC (systems), from what I understand, can’t even take the higher filtration systems.”

School districts in Massachuse­tts turned to ionization equipment, HEPA filters and even box fans to boost air quality. Worcester Public Schools spent $15 million to upgrade its HVAC systems.

“There is an expense to this, but I think it’s a necessary expense,” Kontos said.

Yet schools continued either remote learning, or a hybrid model.

The prospect of children returning to classrooms, easing their struggles with no-contact education and lack of socializat­ion has been a wallet on a string for burdened parents — just when it seems the prize is reachable, it’s yanked away.

Last month, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said schools could reopen safely even if teachers do not get a coronaviru­s vaccine, the Herald reported.

“There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely,” Walensky said.

Kontos concurred, saying that vaccinatio­n of teachers is not a prerequisi­te for safely reopening schools “and never has been.”

Yet when Commission­er of the Massachuse­tts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey Riley announced recently that Massachuse­tts aims to take hybrid and remote learning options “off the table” for districts since COVID numbers are improving, it wasn’t met with applause from all quarters.

Massachuse­tts Teachers Associatio­n president Merrie Najimy slammed the plan, saying the focus should instead be on vaccinatin­g educators.

Najimy told WBZ-TV, “To have full in-person learning contradict­s the science of six feet of distancing. So what the commission­er is doing is waving a magic wand saying problems are solved, and then implementi­ng unilateral authority and usurping the decisions of every school committee.”

Now Biden is throwing his weight behind vaccinatin­g teachers.

We’d like to think this will at last return our children’s education to normal. But we’ve reached for that wallet before.

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