Our Turn: Sununu is leaving New Hampshire’s teachers behind

Published: 1/25/2021 6:10:04 AM

We were shocked when we learned last week that New Hampshire is one of only two states that is not vaccinating teachers in Phase 1 of the vaccine rollout but moved members of the ski patrol to the front of the line.

New Hampshire is already falling behind regionally when it comes to administering the COVID vaccine. Now, parents, teachers, and students are rightly concerned about the very real possibility that vaccination of teachers and educational assistants won’t begin until beyond March.

Gov. Chris Sununu’s decision to exclude K-12 educators in Phase 1 of the vaccine rollout defies CDC guidelines, which recommended prioritizing frontline educators in Phase 1b of the vaccine rollout.

The decision not to vaccinate our teachers in Phase 1 also contradicts the repeated calls the governor has made for schools to reopen. By not prioritizing vaccinations for our teachers and school staff, the governor is prolonging the already unprecedented challenges our schools have faced since the beginning of this pandemic.

Despite the governor’s repeated potshots at public schools, they face real challenges in staying open – including sometimes having to address many staff members quarantine after exposures.

By not vaccinating teachers, the governor is also prolonging the challenges our economy is facing. If small-business owners and employees have to watch their kids at home because schools are closed, their businesses have to remain closed, too. By vaccinating teachers in the first phase, we can ensure that our schools stay open, which will keep businesses open, support New Hampshire’s workforce, and jumpstart the economy.

The governor added insult to injury when he moved New Hampshire’s ski patrol members to the first vaccinations phase. While we recognize that as the owner of a ski resort, Gov. Sununu may have allegiances to ski patrol members – they do not fall under the state law’s definition of first responders.

In addition, according to the Ski Patrol Association, those who are slated to receive the vaccine before educators include volunteers, part-time, and even out-of-state patrollers. It is alarming that the state believes out-of-state, part-time ski patrol members should receive the vaccine ahead of our frontline educators.

And then, instead of listening when the public and educators rightly raised concerns, Gov. Sununu and his team instead attacked. The governor’s spokesperson dismissed concerned teachers as “hacks.” When the governor was asked about it the same day, he said, “Teachers don’t provide emergency medical services and are not required to.”

The governor and his administration’s insulting response was not only inappropriate but also shows a complete disregard – and lack of knowledge – about the responsibility teachers and education assistants often have to provide direct hands-on care and assistance to students and staff.

Like so many other Granite Staters, we understand that New Hampshire has to focus right now on getting the vaccine to those who need it immediately. There are still frontline care workers and vulnerable citizens waiting on the vaccine, and the governor should prioritize getting it to them. However, once the most vulnerable are vaccinated, the state should do what nearly every other state has done and vaccinate educators next.

Teachers and school staff want schools to remain open, safely, more than anyone. That is why it is so disappointing that the governor has gone against the CDC’s advice, disregarded what other states are doing, and ignored educators’ pleas to vaccinate teachers.

There seems to be a disconnect between what the governor says he wants for the state and what he’s willing to do to make that happen. If the governor wants our schools to open and remain open, he needs to prioritize vaccinating educators so we can keep school staff and students safe.

(Rep. Mel Myler lives in Contoocook. Rep. Dave Luneau lives in Hopkinton. Rep. Mary Heath lives in Manchester.)




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