To the Editor:
I write this on behalf of the thousands of New Jersey educators who are frustrated by the lack of access to the COVID vaccine.
On March 1, Governor Murphy stated that educators are eligible for the COVID vaccine and a plan is forthcoming. On March 2, President Biden set the goal of vaccinating all educators by March 31. It is now March 17, and no plan has been shared and thousands of educators see no pathway to receiving a vaccine. If the goal is for all educators to receive a vaccine by March 31, why hasn’t a plan been shared so we can prepare?
As a school superintendent who is responsible for thousands of students and hundreds of staff members, I can assure you that we have no vested interest in continuing with the status quo. We want to return to normal and vaccinating our educators is the pathway to a return to normal this school year.
Rather than planning for our students and staff to potentially return to school, in the absence of a vaccination plan, what is occurring is a veritable “Hunger Games” between school districts as they strive to get staff vaccinated. School districts are being pitted against one another, spending time trying to form “partnerships” with local hospitals, pharmacies, or medical professionals to vaccinate their staff. This is exacerbating equity issues that unfortunately have already tainted this vaccine rollout.
While lack of vaccines is often cited as the cause, it is important to note that vaccines are available for many educators. Some are being vaccinated through the aforementioned partnerships. In some districts, parents are assisting staff members to procure appointments, often waking up at 4:00AM to find appointments for educators. Teachers are traveling hours, sometimes taking personal days, to receive vaccines that they hopefully expected to receive via some kind of organized state plan.
For those of us who listened to the State, we are standing by helpless, while those around us procure vaccines from various sources. Please provide us a strategic and systematic plan to vaccinate our educators. After an entire year of challenge and upheaval, our teachers want nothing more than to be vaccinated. With Spring Break on the horizon, now is the time to implement an aggressive program to accelerate educator vaccination so we can plan for the return of our students. They deserve a clear, quick implementation of what was promised to them.
Respectfully submitted by
Thomas A. Smith, Ed.D.
President of the Mercer County Association of School Administrators