‘Really good news:’ local educators respond to news teachers will be vaccine eligible next

A nurse delivers a shot of COVID-19 vaccine into the arm of a patient at Central High School’s vaccine clinic in Bridgeport, Conn. Jan. 20, 2021. Teachers will be eligible to sign up for vaccines beginning March 1 under new orders from Gov. Ned Lamont.

A nurse delivers a shot of COVID-19 vaccine into the arm of a patient at Central High School’s vaccine clinic in Bridgeport, Conn. Jan. 20, 2021. Teachers will be eligible to sign up for vaccines beginning March 1 under new orders from Gov. Ned Lamont.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

Local school district representatives said they were pleased that teachers were going to be getting COVID-19 vaccines beginning next month now that the governor has expanded the state’s vaccine rollout.

“I am extremely happy,” said Bridgeport Superintendent Michael Testani. “We anticipated something like this might be coming down. We didn’t know when, but I’m glad it’s sooner than later.”

The move also was hailed by Fairfield schools: “We are pleased that the state has recognized the importance of providing vaccines to all teachers and school support staff,” said district Director of Communications Andrea Clark.

“The Fairfield Health Department will be hosting a clinic on ... March 1 for Fairfield public and private school staff and support staff teaching pre-K - grade 12. Eligible teachers and staff can now schedule their appointments through the (federal) VAMS system.”

The district has a special meeting set for March 25 to discuss reopening plans; a timeline for reopening is expected to be presented then, she said.

But she also said that the vaccinations are just one piece of what will be next steps.

“While beginning the vaccination process for teachers and staff is encouraging, we continue to monitor the health data and it is premature to start speculating about end of year events,” she added.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced on Monday that the state will expand COVID-19 vaccination eligibility next month to prekindergarten through 12th grade teachers and school staff, as well as professional childcare providers.

The state prioritizing the group would help protect educators and address the repeated need to shut schools when teachers exposed to the virus must quarantine, the governor’s office said.

That has been a problem in Shelton schools, Superintendent Ken Saranich said.

“This is great news for the district!” he said. “When we went into full remote learning in November, it was not because of the spread of covid-19. It was a result of staff being quarantined. Once our school staff is vaccinated, then we will have less of a chance of placing individuals on quarantine and we will have a better chance of keeping our schools open for our students and moving in the direction of bringing them back full time.”

Dedicated clinics will be set up specifically for educators in March. Teachers and childcare providers can expect information about the clinics from their school administrators and employers soon, the governor’s office said.

Bridgeport Public Schools is already in touch with public health officials to set up a dedicated clinic for vaccinating the district’s educators, Testani said.

“We think it’s important to make a nice, convenient location that staff can access right after work,” he explained.

“Teachers have been through enough this year,” he added. “They’ve been waiting to get their opportunity, and it’s my job to make sure they have easy access to the vaccine.”

In Trumbull, Superintendent Martin Semmel said he was excited about what the state’s rollout plan means for his teachers.

“I’ve had to sit on my hands about this until it was announced,” he said. “The staff have been such troopers all year. I know they’re all really excited. It’s really good news.

“Of course, this just means that starting in March, they are eligible,” he said. “So we’ll still be quite a few weeks away from having everyone vaccinated, but there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel.”

He said the district will not require staff to get vaccinated.

“We are extremely happy to hear that school staff have been moved up and will be eligible for the vaccine beginning March 1,” said Monroe schools Superintendent Joseph Kobza. “Our staff has worked incredibly hard all year to provide for in-person learning for our students. We understand the importance of having our schools opened and this reflects a commitment to those staff members who are on the front lines every day.”

The move by the governor puts educators in line for the vaccine ahead of other essential workers, including grocery store workers, first responders, public transportation workers, manufacturing workers and more. It also prioritizes teachers over those with preexisting medical conditions that put them at greater risk of COVID-19 complications, who were expected to be among the next groups eligible.

The announcement came amid mounting pressure from teachers and their advocates to prioritize educators in Connecticut’s vaccine rollout. Before Monday, Connecticut was not among the more than half of states in the country officially rolling out vaccines to teachers.

“We are very pleased,” said Jeff Leake, the president of the Connecticut Education Association. “We’re working with the governor’s office and others to make sure this goes as smoothly as possible.”

Last week, the state’s largest teacher’s union launched a campaign calling on the state to quickly inoculate adults in school buildings.

“We think that message resonated clearly,” said Leake.

The Bridgeport Education Association did not immediately return a request for comment.