Teachers push for earlier access to vaccine

  • CHS principal Mike Reardon and interim superintendent Kathleen Murphy talk outside the main office at Concord High School. There is a wellness station at the entrance to the building, where everyone who enters has their temperature taken and can help themselves to gloves, masks and hand sanitizer. EILEEN O'GRADY / Monitor Staff

Monitor staff
Published: 1/16/2021 5:25:12 PM

Granite State teachers and school staff are scheduled to be vaccinated between March and May, in Phase 2 of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, but many educators are saying that isn’t soon enough.

On Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu said teachers aren’t in Phase 1 because other groups have higher priority.

“I appreciate that teachers are in close contact with kids, but getting the vaccine right now has to be about those that are of the highest risk of fatality, those of the highest risk of being put in the hospital, and those that care for those that are of highest risk of having a fatality or being in a hospital because of COVID,” Sununu said.

K-12 school and childcare staff is the only employment group specifically named for Phase 2 on the state’s vaccination allocation plan summary, released Jan. 14. It is estimated they account for about 75,000 workers, according to the plan.

Sununu says many industries have been advocating for priority.

“We got letters and requests from virtually every industry you can imagine, from the radio broadcasters to the meatpackers, everyone making a case why they should be first,” Sununu said. “We know a lot of industries come in contact with individuals, whether it’s teachers or otherwise. But we have to put those individuals of highest risk even before them.”

At the same time, Sununu believes schools should be open and operational, saying teacher union reluctance to open certain schools is an “absolute disservice to kids.”

“Pretty much every school can be open across the state and safely, without a doubt. I’m very frustrated that there’s a lot of pushback from folks,” Sununu said. “Parents across this state are begging for schools to open up.”

Sununu is facing pushback from teachers unions for the decision not to prioritize educators.

“We are calling on Governor Sununu to follow the lead of other states and prioritize vaccinating our teachers with high-risk first responders,” Megan Tuttle, president of NEA-NH, the largest union representing the state’s public school teachers, told NHPR.

Similarly in Concord, school administrators have been in contact with state health officials about the vaccine process, and are advocating for educators to receive priority.

They were told the state has no plans to do school-based vaccination clinics at this time, Assistant Superintendent Donna Palley told school board members Wednesday.

Interim superintendent Kathleen Murphy said she has been reaching out to state officials to advocate for prioritizing teachers. Palley also said they are advocating for educational assistants, who work closely with students with disabilities, to be categorized as “caregivers,” which are prioritized in Phase 1b.

“I called the commissioner’s office, for them to be able to understand the absolute need to vaccinate our teachers,” Murphy said. “I needed him to be that voice for Concord School District so we could enable our teachers to get their vaccinations as soon as possible. We are willing to do what we need to do to open up our schools.”

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