As Connecticut’s teacher unions continue to push for remote learning, House Republicans yesterday sent a letter to the co-chairs of Connecticut’s Vaccine Advisory Group asking that school teachers and school employees over the age of 55 be moved to the front of the line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Preventing spread of the virus among older residents and those with underlying health concerns should remain a top priority of the Advisory Group,” wrote House Republican Leader-elect Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, “but as the governor’s panel designs the second vaccination phase I hope its members will also weigh the far-reaching societal impact caused by disruptions to the educational experience of students.”
Connecticut is currently in Phase 1a of the Center for Disease Control’s vaccination schedule, focusing on health care professionals, first responders and residents of long-term care facilities where Connecticut saw the vast majority of COVID-related deaths.
According to the CDC, Phase 1b includes a broad range of professions who interact with the public including police and firefighters, public transit workers, grocery store employees, teachers and daycare employees and people over the age of 75.
Throughout the pandemic, Lamont has largely relied on the CDC guidelines for managing Connecticut’s response, but the ultimate decision still remains with the state and the governor.
Advocates for various groups have been lining up and pressuring the administration, jockeying to get key groups of vulnerable individuals to the front of the line, including prisoners and the developmentally disabled.
The state’s Vaccine Advisory Group is made up of numerous public health officials, elected representative and senators, scientists, and organization leaders.
During a January 5 meeting of the Allocation Subcommittee to discuss who to include in the next round of vaccines, Benjamin Bechtolsheim of the Department of Public Health said there have already been over 100 letters from various groups and individuals looking to be moved ahead in the vaccination schedule.
However, with over 50,000 active teachers in Connecticut, the inclusion of teachers could lengthen the amount of time it takes to get other groups vaccinated as well.
Thus far, Connecticut has received roughly 174,000 vaccines and the Advisory Group indicated that Phase 1a was “turning the corner” and would be moving to the next phase soon.
“It’s critical that we get all kids back into schools full-time, and a part of that equation is to reduce the anxiety some teachers have toward returning to their classrooms,” Candelora wrote. “Making the vaccine available to them as soon as possible should be considered.”
The closure of schools in March of 2020 and the imposition of remote learning left many children – particularly those in urban areas – behind. Many students lacked the necessary lap tops or tablets to complete online learning or just disappeared, never signing into the online classrooms.
According to the state, 3.1 percent of students in – more than 5,000 — never signed onto remote learning once for an entire week in October, although those figures were much improved from the Spring.
Lamont and his administration worked with the Dalio Foundation and others to deliver 142,000 laptops and learning devices to needy students in the spring and summer. Lamont pushed for schools to reopen for in-class learning in the fall of 2020. Many schools have used a hybrid model, combining in-person classroom time with distance learning.
However, Connecticut’s teacher unions pushed back against in-classroom learning throughout the summer and fall. Lamont refused to unilaterally close down schools again through executive order and instead left the decision on how to move forward to each school district.
A January 3 statement from Connecticut Education Association President Jeff Leake said that some superintendents have pushed off reopening schools until mid-January as Connecticut saw an increase in COVID cases, likely due to the holidays, and he said that other schools should follow that lead.
“It’s time for all public school superintendents to follow the lead of their colleagues who have paused in-person learning until mid-January,” Leake wrote.
The CEA and the American Federation of Teachers released a survey showing 87 percent of teachers wanted in-class teacher suspended at least one week after the holiday and 60 percent thought that all schools should move to all remote learning.
“While no one is more eager to return to the classroom than Connecticut’s dedicated teachers, detecting and stopping the spread of COVID-19 must be the top priority,” Leake wrote. “Until in-person learning can resume safely, our educators are committed to ensuring quality distance teaching to keep students engaged and learning.”
During his January 4 press conference, Lamont said he would wait on guidance from the Vaccine Advisory Board, but did say that teachers in the front of the classroom are “front-line, essential workers.”
“Everybody has somebody they want to put into the next group and to the front of the line,” Lamont said. “If everybody is priority, nobody is a priority.”