By Ethan Putnam, Community News Service
Teachers from across the state were lined up outside Champlain Valley Union High School to receive their first dose of their COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday morning.
Vermont Governor Phil Scott had announced March 2 his intention to begin vaccinating educators across the state starting the following week.
“We know getting our kids back in school for in-person instruction five days a week is essential, and this is a step forward on that goal,” Scott said.
The plan was endorsed by the Vermont NEA, the state’s teachers union, which has been critical of the state’s school reopening plans in the past.
“Nobody wants to see students return to the state’s classrooms more than teachers, paraeducators, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, school nurses and administrators. But, as we’ve said all along, this can only happen when it is demonstrably safe to do so. Vaccinating school employees is a big step in the right direction,” said Vermont NEA president Don Tinney.
The clinic was announced by CVSD Superintendent Elaine Pinckney in a March 12 update.
“We have been notified by the Agency of Education that 1,000 Pfizer vaccines will be available to our faculty and staff at CVU on Wednesday, March 17. These vaccines will be administered by the Vermont National Guard and will be available to educators in neighboring districts as well,” Pickney said.
More clinics will be available, Pickney added.
CVU Principal Adam Bunting estimates that nearly all of the available doses were administered on Wednesday. Pickney reminded the community that “the vaccine’s full effectiveness kicks in two weeks after the final dosage,” meaning the 1,000 people who got the shot in the arm Wednesday won’t be fully vaccinated until late April.
According to the Vermont Department of Health, 322,000 people in Vermont have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, and 91,000 people have completed the course of a vaccine as of Monday, March 22.
Margaret Ford, a paraeducator at Shelburne Community School, said she was feeling relieved and excited to get vaccinated.
“It’s hope, hope for getting together with family, hugging people you haven’t been able to in a while,” Ford said.
Kris Hoyt, a teacher from Richford Junior/Senior High School near the Canadian border, said he “loved” getting the vaccine and was looking forward to being in the classroom more often.
“The sooner we can get back to full in-person, the better. It’s a better quality of education for the kids and it’s more enjoyable for the teachers also,” Hoyt said.
Rahn Fleming, who serves as both the coordinator of The Learning Center and head football coach at CVU, was keenly aware of that gravity.
“The level of relief I feel getting the vaccine tells me that I’ve been carrying more anxiety than I let on. I’ve been here 20 years, and you see how I am,” Fleming gestured toward a colleague he had an enthusiastic exchange with right before the interview started. “It’s euphoric. I’m just so happy for people.”
Also in the CVSD update was the news that some of the middle schools in the district like Hinesburg Community School and Williston Central School will begin four days per week in-person instruction soon. There is still no change in the hybrid instruction method (with the fully remote option) at CVU.
“We want our students back full time as soon as we can safely do so,” wrote Bunting in an email. “The major impediment is recommendation around 6-foot spacing. We don’t have the physical space to accommodate in-person learning for all 1,300 of our students at that distance. Three foot distancing gets us closer to full-time in-person, but we would have to be cautious with some of our smaller spaces.
“At the end of the day, we follow science and the advice of our health care professionals,” Bunting wrote.
Community News Service reporter Maddy Holden contributed reporting.