Union leaders say that changes to vaccine priorities made by Governor Baker will significantly delay the vaccination of educators and slow down a safe return to more in-person learning in public schools and colleges.
“The governor keeps pushing schools to reopen for in-person learning more quickly, regardless of the risks to staff and students, yet he has just made it much harder to do that safely,” said Beth Kontos, president of AFT Massachusetts.
“The governor keeps pushing schools to reopen for in-person learning more quickly ... yet he has just made it much harder to do that safely."AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos
Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, added, “It is an outrage that once again the people impacted by this decision have to find out about it at a press conference at the same time as everyone else, with no advance notice. Our members, our students, and their families feel like pawns in a chess game — a game whose rules keep changing.”
The expected delays for education staff result from the governor’s decision to change the prioritization order for those in Phase 2, which is scheduled to begin Feb. 1. The change will delay vaccinating educators by several weeks or more.
Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, was especially concerned that no consideration had been given to educators and other staff who are currently required to work in close contact with students.
“To increase the number of students back in schools, we need to prioritize vaccinating educators."Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang
“If you are required to work with students in person — which thousands of educators have been doing for months now — you should be vaccinated as soon as possible for the sake of your colleagues, students, and the family members those children could infect, as well as the larger community,” Tang said. “To increase the number of students back in schools, we need to prioritize vaccinating educators.”
The union leaders said that rather than moving preK-12 staff down on the list, the state should instead be moving higher education faculty and staff and municipal librarians higher, from Phase 3 into Phase 2. Thirty-two other states have prioritized higher education employees along with preK-12 staff.
The lack of any concrete statewide plan for vaccinating public school staff is causing some districts to set up their own systems and reach out to the state one by one for vaccine doses.
“They are forcing communities to compete with one another for a scarce resource rather than establishing a fair system with clear rules."MTA President Merrie Najimy
“It’s like the Hunger Games,” said Najimy. “They are forcing communities to compete with one another for a scarce resource rather than establishing a fair system with clear rules. The Baker administration must do a better job of balancing the needs of people at risk because of age and other factors with recognizing that people working with students need to be vaccinated. We had not opposed the original prioritization list because it had a rational basis and promised to deliver vaccines to educators in February. Now, those hopes may be dashed.”