Amherst schools, town OK resolution urging state to move teachers up in vax line

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Monday, February 22, 2021

AMHERST — Teachers and other educators should be moved up in line for getting the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a resolution jointly adopted by the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee and the Town Council last week.

The appeal to the state Legislature, Gov. Charlie Baker and the state Department of Public Health asks them to include “all certificated and classified school personnel in Group 2 of Phase 2, moving them up from Group 3” for access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

The resolution was drafted by Amherst school committee representative Kerry Spitzer and District 1 Town Councilor Cathy Schoen, and it comes as schools in Amherst and Pelham, including the regional middle and high schools, have had in-person instruction during the pandemic for only a brief period in October, and then only for the youngest and highest-needs students.

The school committee approved the action unanimously.

“This is the advocacy we need,” said Amherst representative Peter Demling, who praised Spitzer and state Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, for pushing for teachers to be vaccinated.

“The Baker administration has just done, in my opinion, a terrible job of distributing the vaccines that we do have in hand now,” Demling said. “Of course, this is all fruit of the poison Trump tree, and we should have had stockpiles of vaccines, and no one disputes that.”

Leverett school committee representative Bethany Seeger said she will bring forth a similar resolution in her town, but remains puzzled by the Baker administration wanting schools to reopen without putting teachers at the front of the line for vaccinations.

“I really hope that this state administration starts to get the message,” Seeger said.

The resolution also calls on the Massachusetts Association of School Committees to publicly advocate for public school educators to be prioritized as essential workers.

The Town Council adopted the resolution by a 9-4 vote, with concern from those who voted against it about moving up teachers and not other front-facing workers, such as those who are serving the public from grocery stores and survival centers.

Schoen said she was inspired to draft the resolution after hearing testimony at an Open Meeting of the Residents Feb. 4, including from pediatricians and other medical providers outlining the toll on children who are learning remotely.

“It was painful to listen to the stories people were telling,” Schoen said.

The Town Council should do what it can to bring teachers back into schools and give children the human contact they need, District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam said.

“The (emotional) damage to children as they develop that has happened in this past year may never be corrected,” Pam said.

District 4 Councilor Steve Schreiber said getting schools open has to be one of the first actions after a disaster like the pandemic, and advocating for teachers is an important message.

At Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke, who joined District 3 Councilor George Ryan, At Large Councilor Alisa Brewer and District 2 Councilor Pat DeAngelis in opposing the measure, said Amherst schools have barely had any in-person instruction not because of the lack of vaccine, but because of a bad memorandum of agreement with the teachers union.

“I fear that even if the educators get moved up in the line they will still refuse to come back to school in this town because they’re going to then claim the students aren’t immunized,” Hanneke said.

Brewer said she believes that those who work in school buildings should be vaccinated before returning to schools, but also feels it is wrong to put them before people who have had jobs interacting with the public for the past 11 months.