NJ teachers seek vaccines as under 100 schools remain all remote
More counties have pulled together resources for vaccinating educators against COVID-19, as a growing number of New Jersey politicians have taken up the call for a more expansive return to classrooms.
U.S. Reps. Tom Malinowski and Josh Gottheimer have jointly urged for more state vaccination resources to be earmarked specifically for teachers, as a number of the state’s largest districts have remained fully remote for instruction for more than a year now.
“Going virtual was the right thing to do when the virus struck us, to save the lives of school staff, parents and students alike. Our teachers did all they could to make it work; our kids have been resilient. But the toll on children after one year away from physical school — on their emotional and mental health and their educational progress — has been great, and grows each day,” the congressmen wrote in a guest column for The Star Ledger on Monday.
“The greatest harm is done to the youngest children, who need hands-on instruction and opportunities for play with their peers the most, and to their parents, who must somehow juggle their jobs with making sure their kids are paying attention to virtual classes. It’s time to re-open our schools safely,” they continued.
U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J. 11th District, also has called for a return to classrooms, noting on Twitter Monday that her four children have remained remote since last March.
Within Sherrill’s congressional district, Montclair has been through a struggle, including a lawsuit which has since been withdrawn, when it comes to reopening its public schools for in-person learning.
Montclair leaders joined Essex County Commissioners on Friday and announced a new partnership for vaccines to educators in the township, starting this week.
“This is going to benefit not only our community, but most importantly, the children of Montclair. Our plan for hybrid teaching and learning, scheduled to begin for all Pre-K and elementary school students April 12, remains on track,” Montclair Schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said in a written response to New Jersey 101.5.
In Bergen County on Saturday, more than 700 school staff received single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines, distributed under the Janssen brand.
The one-day clinic at the Bergen County Technical School in Paramus was coordinated with the Bergen County Education Association, the Executive County Superintendent’s Office and the Bergen County Superintendent’s Association.
A second clinic for public educators and faculty is set, by appointment, for this coming Saturday.
As of Tuesday, 143 schools around the state reported offering in-person instruction, up 33 since a week earlier, state education officials said.
The number of schools that reported being on a hybrid schedule or a combination of instruction was at 569, while the number of schools on all-remote instruction was at 99 — unofficially below 100 for the first time since the pandemic struck last March.
Sherill joined U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone and Andy Kim on Monday as first lady Jill Biden visited an elementary school in Burlington County.
Biden spoke in support of the resources for school reopenings included in the newly signed American Rescue Plan federal stimulus.
In other parts of the state, programs to vaccinate teachers have been more segmented.
Monmouth County school districts have seen more than 2,100 educators vaccinated in less than a month,” according to Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, in a written statement urging all districts to return to full day, in-person instruction by April.
Teachers have received their shots through the Visiting Nurse Association of Central Jersey and local health care systems, O’Scanlon said, noting that his office has helped coordinate the project.
In Atlantic County, school districts have been developing programs with existing vaccination sites, such as Egg Harbor Township coordinating with Walmart, a spokesperson for the county said.
School districts in Gloucester County would be given the opportunity to get teachers vaccinated at the mega-site on the campus of Rowan College of South Jersey, Senate President Steve Sweeney previously announced.
Trenton, Jersey City and Paterson also have launched vaccine efforts for their school teachers and staff, in hopes of returning to some form of in-person instruction for the first time since a year ago.
Jersey City has a target date to return to schools by April 22, while Trenton and Paterson both have been working toward a May return for students, in some capacity.
Other large public school districts that have remained all remote for more than a year include Elizabeth, New Brunswick and Perth Amboy. Neither Union nor Middlesex County has announced a coordinated effort to vaccinate educators within their local districts, as of Tuesday evening.
As of mid-morning Tuesday, 3,058,178 vaccine doses had been administered statewide. That included 1,991,181 first doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer Vaccine, for a total of 1,066,718 fully vaccinated New Jerseyans.
Also as of Tuesday, the state reported a cumulative total of 173 school outbreaks, involving 804 cases of confirmed coronavirus.
While the total stretches back to August, that is 14 more outbreaks, with 39 additional cases, reported in schools statewide since March 7.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not changed its recommended social distancing policies, though a new study with findings that half that amount of space between students might still be effective, as long as masks continue to be worn.
That study was published on March 10 in Clinical Infectious Diseases.
If six feet between students is not possible, “additional modifications should be considered,” including movable desk barriers or “sneeze guard” partitions, as well as having students face the same direction, instead of semi-circle or other desk or table configurations, according to the state’s reopening guidance issued late last year.
“The shared goal of having the backbone of our school districts vaccinated is of immense importance, and we are grateful for being a part of it,” Bergen County Schools Association of School Administrators President Michael Jordan said in a written statement about Bergen County’s teacher vaccine efforts.