With word that the state will allow K-12 teachers and staff, as well as childcare workers, to become eligible for COVID-19 vaccine appointments on March 11, members of Wellesley’s school and health departments are hopeful but also tempering expectations.
Wellesley Public Schools Supt. Dr. David Lussier tweeted on Wednesday morning: “Expecting to hear some updated news from Gov. Baker this morning regarding educator vaccinations. Hoping this happens ASAP to support the continued reopening of our schools!”
Lussier outlined efforts WPS is making to help ensure a safe return to fuller in-person classrooms in his weekly bulletin this past week. Among them is the School Department’s shiny new locally-focused COVID-19 dashboard for monitoring the safety of being in school based on the latest numbers.
The Wellesley Educators Association‘s Kyle Gekopi said the town’s educators were disappointed last month when state officials called for a full return for elementary school students in April before any vaccination plans for school personnel had been detailed, but is more hopeful after today’s development. “Today’s news is a welcome departure from the Commissioner and Governor’s rhetoric, and we ask for the community’s continued patience and understanding while we work through this distribution process. The MTA has put forth an aggressive localized vaccination plan that we hope will be implemented in short order, and we would ask that any community member who supports a full return to please advocate for this plan. Locally, we are working with Dr. Lussier and WPS administrators to identify high-risk learning environments under a full return scenario and to implement additional mitigation strategies. While this may take several weeks, we do believe that safety of students and staff must remain at the center of every decision we make.”
During the Wellesley Board of Health meeting on March 4, Director of Community and Public Health Lenny Izzo said state health officials warned that it could take a month for educators to schedule first doses in light of fact that there are at least a few hundred thousand of them, and because many of those already eligible based on age and ailments haven’t even gotten their appointments yet due to a shortage of vaccines. “I honestly thought the state was going to take an approach of creating this system where the educators would get vaccinated within their community much like they did the first responders,” Izzo said.
Based on the assumption that Wellesley teachers will get their vaccinations once they become eligible, the Board of Health is preparing a position paper to offer guidance for the Wellesley Public School system as it plots its return to in-person education in bigger numbers. The board plans to discuss this with school officials at its March 8 meeting. According to Board Vice Chair Dr. Marcia Testa Simonson, the information included in that paper will include fresh data on increases in mental health issues being experienced by students during the pandemic.
Mental health of students will also be the subject of a meeting later this month involving town health, social work, and school personnel.