Lawrence school board: Give vaccine priority to educators

Lawrence Township School Board
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Lawrence Township School Board

Lawrence Township school district officials are calling on Gov. Phil Murphy to give “appropriate priority” to educators and support staff in the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Lawrence Township Public Schools Board of Education adopted a resolution at its Jan. 27 meeting that requests the governor to include teachers and support staff in the vaccine allotment panel’s definition of “frontline workers.”

The state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan has given top priority to healthcare workers, residents in long-term care facilities and correctional facilities, police officers, firefighters and other emergency responders.

Educators and childcare workers are among those who are considered to be essential workers – or frontline workers – in the next group to be vaccinated. Lawrence Township school district officials want to ensure that educators are, in fact, next in line for the vaccine.

Last month, Murphy opened up registration to include persons over 65 years old, as well as persons 16-64 years old who have underlying medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart conditions and obesity.

School board President Kevin Van Hise said the board is asking Murphy to prioritize teachers. The district’s ability to open the schools for in-person learning and to keep them open is “predicated” on having healthy teachers, he said.

“I know the school board is very concerned about the staff. We have been getting word that the (number of available doses of) vaccines is woefully inadequate, but it is now starting to ease up,” Van Hise said.

The resolution states that the school board recognizes that federal and state officials declared a public health emergency regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. The district complied with orders to close the schools to stem the spread of the disease, and switched to remote learning for students.

According to the resolution, the school board also recognizes that remote learning “may have an adverse impact on student achievement and the emotional and social well-being of students.” Reopening schools for in-person learning is vital to their well-being.

“School district staff at all levels are essential to the day-to-day operations of this district (and) are responsible for the thorough and efficient education of all students, and their social and emotional well-being,” the resolution states.

School district staff “are critical for virtual and in-class instruction, and are ‘essential workers,'” the resolution states – and that’s why they should be given priority for the available vaccines.

The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), which lobbies for teachers, also has called on Murphy to grant priority access to them for the vaccine “so we can do our jobs more safely.”

“With vaccines in short supply, it’s time for New Jersey to prioritize the people who are entrusted with the health, safety and education of New Jersey’s children,” NJEA posted on its website.

NJEA also has embarked on a letter-writing campaign, with the goal of sending 12,800 letters to the governor. As of Jan. 31, more than 7,500 letters had been emailed to Murphy.

Meanwhile, Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes said the county will receive 1,500 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines every week, beginning Feb. 1. It had been receiving 800 doses. Hughes said the 1,500 doses do not include vaccines received by hospitals, pharmacies and private clinics.

“Although it’s still a long way from where we need to be, it’s welcome news and I thank Gov. Murphy and his team for hearing our pleas,” Hughes said.

As of Jan. 31, more than 21,000 Mercer County residents had been vaccinated against COVID-19. Nearly 60,000 Middlesex County residents have received the vaccine, and more than 31,000 Somerset County residents have been inoculated, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.