Educators, school staff, superintendents and parents applaud adoption of their proposal for keeping buildings open by prioritizing COVID-19 vaccines
Unions representing teachers and support personnel, superintendents and parents today are thanking state officials for prioritizing educators and school staff for vaccinations and adopting their proposed parallel vaccination plan presented last week for Connecticut’s school communities. The Board of Education (BOE) Union Coalition’s recommendations were included in directives announced this afternoon by Governor Ned Lamont. Once implemented, the plan will support students’ access to uninterrupted in-person instruction and mitigate the impacts of learning loss due to staff quarantines and related building closures.
“The next phase of vaccines in Connecticut moves our state forward in a sensible and equitable way,” said CEA Executive Director Donald Williams. “Prioritizing school and childcare employees makes sense because of the need for safety in our schools, and the benefit students receive from in-class education. Parents appreciate knowing they can go to work while their children are being safely educated.”
“This vaccination plan is a literal shot in the arm for students and staff across the state. We can make school-based vaccination clinics work. These clinics have worked for years to inoculate children and adults against the flu; they’ll work in the fight against this virus, too,” added Cynthia Harris-Jackson, who works as a public health nurse at Conte West Hills Magnet School in New Haven and is president of AFSCME Local 1303-467, the union representing New Haven’s public health nurses.
Coalition leaders last week shared their plan with Lamont Administration officials and called for establishing parallel, school-based vaccination clinics in local and regional districts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends minimizing barriers to access and supports administering vaccines at or near workplaces as an optimal strategy.
“We never suggested anyone ‘jump the line,’” said Shellye Davis, a paraeduator at Moylan Expeditionary Learning Academy in Hartford. “We called for an efficient plan grounded in science and safety protocols to keep school buildings open. We applaud the governor for prioritizing in-person learning for all students. At the same time, we urge him to keep other essential workers in the 1-b category, too,” added Davis, who serves as co-president of the Hartford Federation of Paraeducators, AFT Local 2221.
“The governor recognized that our plan, while ambitious, is achievable,” said Carl Chisem, president of the Connecticut Employees Union Independent (CEUI), SEIU Local 511. “Once vaccinations are completed, an important step toward protecting the health and safety of school communities will have been taken. A similar approach is urgently needed to inoculate the rest of the state’s essential workforce,” added Chisem, who also serves as president of the Municipal Employees Union Independent (MEUI), SEIU Local 506.
The BOE Unions Coalition’s goal is aligned with Gov. Lamont’s pledge to complete vaccination of all Connecticut school employees during the month of March.
“As the parent of two, including a kindergartener, our family is having the incredibly common experience of navigating the challenges of COVID-19 in our school, including distance learning,” said Sarah O’Dell of Redding. “We hear this and other concerns from so many Connecticut Parent Teacher Association (PTA) families. Due to school staff having to quarantine, the inconsistency has been problematic. The Connecticut PTA understands that our education system is doing the best they can in these unprecedented times. We appreciate our state leaders supporting that by prioritizing vaccines to school personnel during the essential worker phase so schools can open safely,” added O’Dell, a Connecticut PTA Legislative Committee member.
The latest CDC science-based guidance calls for states to prioritize school staff after healthcare workers and long-term-care facility residents in order to make schools safer. It confirms that schools need effective measures in place to keep students, educators and staff safe for in-person learning.
“The governor’s decision to vaccinate all school staff as quickly and efficiently as possible is a good one and will be an incredible boost to our children and families,” said Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS).
Many school districts in Connecticut have not consistently enforced mask-wearing, six feet of social distancing, frequent handwashing, or ensured cleaning and disinfecting, contact tracing or testing. The failure to adhere to health and safety protocols has since last fall thwarted efforts to maintain consistent in-person learning due to frequent building closures and school staff quarantines.
“The state heard our concerns, listened to the science, and decided that to keep schools open and safe for everyone, the best course of action is to vaccinate teachers and staff,” said CEA President Jeff Leake. “Since the leading cause of school closures in Connecticut is teacher and staff shortages due to quarantines, vaccinating our school communities goes a long way toward protecting educators and preventing further school disruptions.”
The CDC’s latest guidelines now also exempt those who are fully vaccinated from needing to quarantine if they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. The coalition’s plan would allow more schools to remain open, despite community spread, if educators and staff are immunized against the virus.
The BOE Union Coalition proposal includes:
- Implementing a parallel school-based vaccination clinic for school staff in school districts;
- Coordinating between school districts and local healthcare and public health institutions to provide on-site or local administration of the vaccine, just as most schools presently do with annual flu shots;
- Providing vaccine clinics at times that do not disrupt school schedules or student learning; &
- Vaccinating 120,000 educators and staff in our K-12 public schools in the month of March.
“We thank the Governor for hearing our plea for a parallel, focused vaccine program for school workers,” said CSEA SEIU Local 2001 Executive Director, David Glidden. “All of those who make in-person learning possible – paraeducators, bus drivers and monitors, secretaries, custodians, teachers, cafeteria workers, nurses and childcare providers – will be able to do so more safely. What is now needed is a parallel approach to the governor’s age-bracketing plan that prioritizes all of Connecticut’s heroic essential workers,” added Glidden.
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The Board of Education Union Coalition represents over 60,000 public school employees (teachers and non-certified education personnel) across the state and includes members in the following labor federations and their affiliated unions: AFSCME, AFT Connecticut, CEA, CSEA, SEUI, CEUI, MEUI, and UAW.