WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — Starting Monday, everyone who works inside a school – including teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, custodians, food service, and bus drivers – will be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Childcare workers are included too. And of course, those 55 and older will be eligible on March 1, as well. Each school district is responsible for setting up its own clinic.
Waterbury appears to be the first school district in the state to set up a unique partnership with one of the local hospitals.
Getting the vaccine is voluntary for teachers, but the superintendent and the union are encouraging them to roll up their sleeves.
Lisa Ieronimo, a first-grade teacher in Waterbury, says she and her co-workers are optimistic: “We are all looking forward to getting back into the classroom with our kids.”
She has been a Waterbury school teacher for nearly 30 years and will be signing up for the vaccine through an exclusive clinic set up by the district.
“I can’t wait. I live with my 92-year-old and 94-year-old parents and I’ve had to worry all the time they might get sick from me,” added Ieronimo.
Staff will be emailed a hotline number Friday they can call to set up their appointment.
Mayor Neil O’Leary is clear, reopening schools is a priority. “We know in-person learning is paramount; we all know this.”
The Waterbury Public Schools superintendent says vaccinating staff means hybrid learning will eventually move to full-time in-person learning.
Superintendent Verna Ruffin says it’s clear that in-person learning is best.
“We see our most vulnerable students in elementary schools who really need to see their teacher. And be able to learn phonics and learn reading skills that are essential and can’t always be done effectively electronically.”
But Waterbury currently only has 500 doses of the vaccine and there is 4,000 staff who will be eligible starting next week. The math doesn’t work.
Governor Ned Lamont says help is on the way.
“Now we’re up to 100,000 doses a week and next week we get our first 30,000 doses from Johnson and Johnson.”
Sixth-grade Waterbury teacher Michelle Brittingham got her vaccine appointment through regular channels.
“My husband and I go together next Thursday and we are absolutely thrilled.”
Ieronimo says it’s about confidence: “The kids love being in school, they want to be with friends and with their teacher.”
News 8 Chief Political Correspondent Jodi Latina asked, “So this will give you an extra layer of confidence?”
“Yes, let’s hope for everybody,” answered Ieronimo.
The Waterbury School Superintendent is negotiating a reopening plan for the district’s schools to begin in March. She says it may mean longer school days to make up for the lost time.
At a private school not far from the Brass City, Mercy High School in Middletown, long-time physics teacher Buff Bachenheimer tells News 8 during the summer the administrators sent a survey to teachers asking them what they could do to make the teachers feel safe. She says any of the suggestions that were possible were implemented.
The rooms were arranged so students were never closer than six feet, lunches were spread out in waves for social distancing, classrooms went paperless, and windows in the school were kept open even in the winter months to keep ventilation adequate. “It gets cold but we wear many layers of clothes,” she said.
But, she says, even with the changes, the students needs aren’t being entirely met, and they won’t be until all teachers are vaccinated and all classes can be in-person.
“I have to remind students about 100 times a day to stay 6 feet apart. It is not in their nature to socially distance. It is almost impossible for a teacher to stay six feet from a student who is having a crisis, whether it is academic or personal. Students are suffering and teachers want to help. Schools will never be normal until teachers can be close to students. The only way to have a semi-normal school is to vaccinate teachers.”
And many educators in the state agree. Our coverage continues: Essential workers react to announcement of CT COVID vaccine rollout; educators relieved, grocery store workers disappointed