K-12 Teacher Vaccinations Provide a Safety Net for Massachusetts Educators

Azusa Lippit, Assistant Managing Editor

Marking a full year since schools first closed in response to the coronavirus, a push to reopen districts as fully as possible has been initiated at the federal level. On March 3rd, 2021, Governor Charlie Baker announced that in compliance with the Biden administration, Massachusetts would add K-12 teachers, child care workers, and staff to the pool of citizens eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations.

March 3rd was the third day since CRLS first welcomed one-third of its students back on campus for limited in-person learning. Teachers had meticulously either planned their transition back to teaching in a classroom or continued to plan and teach their lessons remotely.

… one of the biggest points for staff was the lack of the vaccine, and feeling that we were basically risking our health so that we could be in person.

— Mr. Ross Benson, CRLS Math Teacher

This choice to stay remote could have been a result of a lack of access to vaccinations, speculated math teacher Mr. Ross Benson, who received his first dose of the Moderna vaccine following the announcement. “There are other issues as well with in-person, but that one is probably one of the bigger ones for staff, whether we feel safe enough to go back,” Mr. Benson told the Register Forum. “There are definitely still students to worry about, but one of the biggest points for staff was the lack of the vaccine, and feeling that we were basically risking our health so that we could be in person.”

Mr. Benson also pointed out, however, that a multitude of personal circumstances may have prevented faculty and staff from returning to the building. While access to a vaccine may serve as a comfort for teachers under such circumstances, it may not necessarily spur an immediate desire to teach in person. History and computer science teacher Mr. Marlin Kann found that many of his colleagues may be staying home for “childcare and multigenerational living.” Mr. Kann shared with the Register Forum, “For those where [teaching remotely] is a personal decision, yes, I think the vaccine will change their view on teaching in the building. For others, I don’t know if they will do it until both they and whoever it is who they’re worried about in their home have been vaccinated.”

Upon hearing that they would be eligible for the vaccine, teachers throughout the commonwealth flooded registration websites hoping for an appointment. Mr. Benson, who found out about the decision through a department meeting, found that “all the slots had been taken so [he] waited until the next day and got up at 6 AM to go on the website.”

Nevertheless relieved by the news of eligibility, some were expecting teachers working with younger students to have been prioritized earlier. “For public school teachers, especially those who teach younger kids, I think it’s really important that they were to get [the vaccine] earlier,” explained Senior Sofia Mrowka. “With elementary school kids, it’s one of the only barriers of protection. It’s so much harder to keep everyone separated with such young students and even their masks always falling off.”

Although diligence in mask-wearing may not be as pressing when dealing with high school students, a potential risk remains. Anna Von Rosenstiel ’21 still felt relatively safe attending in-person school knowing that her teachers had not yet been vaccinated. “My teacher got the vaccination after I went to school, and it never felt unsafe since there were windows and fans and everyone was far away.”

The novel access to vaccines will likely not dramatically increase the number of teachers coming into the building, particularly as the supply of vaccines will not increase to account for the roughly 400,000 added to the eligible group. Governor Baker stated in his announcement, “While here in Massachusetts we’ve been a national leader with respect to how fast and how efficiently we can administer doses, the fact remains we’re still only going to get about 150,000 first doses every week. We’d like everybody to get vaccinated as fast as possible, but it will take time to move through the current folks left in the 65+ and two comorbidity categories.”

Though providing no guarantees, the vaccination of K-12 educators provides a hopeful development for schools throughout the country. Cambridge, alongside the rest of the state, is moving forward by supporting its teachers, in pursuit of relentless prioritization of safety for the entire community.