Everett plan to vaccinate teachers goes awry

City had hoped to inoculate educators over a weekend

TEACHERS HAVE BEEN decrying their low status in the vaccine pecking order for weeks, but Everett decided to do something about it.

The local School Committee voted on January 19 to make vaccinations the centerpiece of a plan to transition from remote learning for most students to a hybrid remote/in-person approach in March. The plan, kept under wraps until recently, called for the city to vaccinate all its education officials during a two-day all-hands-on-deck shot clinic the first weekend of February. Seven school nurses would have been tasked to administer the shots.

DeMaria announced at a January 19 school committee meeting that that he had put in an order to the state for 950 doses of the vaccine for school staff and teachers. The city’s plan called for its educators to be vaccinated at the same time as those 75 and over.

But then, Gov. Charlie Baker moved those 65 and above into the vaccination slot ahead of teachers and other essential workers on January 25, pushing teachers down the priority line and scuttling Everett’s plan.

“While I understand the prioritization and reasoning of Governor Baker, I was hopeful to be able to treat multiple priorities simultaneously by vaccinating our seniors as well as our educators at the same time,” said DeMaria through a spokeswoman last weekend.

The DeMaria spokesperson noted that the city was unable to follow through with its plan because of the “state’s strict phases.”

“Everett is a high-risk community and being so our children have been remote since last March. The sooner we can vaccinate our educators, the sooner we can provide some sort of normalcy to our youth,” said Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria in a statement.

In the days that followed Baker’s January 25 announcement, DeMaria’s cohort, which included the Everett Teachers’ Association and the district, were informed that they would not able to acquire the necessary first doses to vaccinate 300-plus front-line teachers and staff in a single weekend.  

Members of the Everett School Committee and Everett Teacher’s Association listen to Superintendent Priya Tahiliani discuss vaccine roll out.

Officials at the state’s Department of Public Health and COVID-19 Command Center wouldn’t comment on Everett’s situation, but noted in an email that “teachers are not eligible for vaccine appointments yet.”

Priya Tahiliani, superintendent of the Everett schools, said she had hoped to get teachers at least one dose of the vaccine before reopening with a hybrid part-in-person, part-remote model. She thought students could return to school before March vacation. “At this point, we don’t even have a first date for distribution,” she said during the February 1 school committee meeting.

The process for getting vaccines through local boards of health requires all provider sites request a certain number of vaccine doses through a weekly survey that they receive every Monday. 

Requests are then evaluated based on a site’s inventory, capacity to vaccinate, and the percentage of doses administered compared to those received. Further adjustments are made based on available supply, which the DPH has said is severely constrained due to the limited supply from the federal government. While the Baker administration was aware of Everett’s plans, no efforts were made to stop them from moving forward until the end of January.

“The timetable [for reopening hybrid] has been thrown into flux and we’ve been left to best figure out how to adjust on the fly,” said Tahiliani during a February 1 school committee meeting. DeMaria’s office, she said, had tried “every which way to make Plan B or C work to see if we can get our educators vaccinated as we had originally planned.”  

School Committee member Dana Murray has been teaching high-needs students in person during the pandemic. During the February 1 meeting, she asked parents who wish to go hybrid to see “how depressed students are at home” and consider reaching out directly to the Governor’s office. “Given how easy it was to move teachers back, it would be just as easy to move them up,” she said.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Several School Committee members noted that there are at least 26 states that have made teachers eligible to receive the vaccine, depending on current availability.

“I am outraged,” Murray said, calling the whole situation a “waste” of everyone’s time. “We were ready to move forward as a city, then the state came in and, for absolutely no discernable reason, changed the rules of the game again, which is so disgustingly and horrifyingly dismissive,” she said.