Vermont teachers worry while awaiting COVID vaccine

Vermont News

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WFFF) — Some Vermont educators say they’re confused about state and national guidance when it comes to getting the vaccine. “It’s not just knowing how COVID-19 is spreading in our schools, it’s how it’s affecting our schools,” said Kindergarten teacher Samantha Brehm.

Since early October, Brehm has been teaching in-person five days a week. Her classroom, she says, is the size of a living room. But, that’s where she teaches her 20 students for eight hours a day.

A few weeks ago, Brehm started a petition and wrote a letter to the Scott Administration. In it, she asked that Vermont educators be included in the vaccine rollout. “It was an automated response, which was a little disheartening. But it was automated response citing the data that I am asking, and the petitioners are asking be reexamined.”  

That data refers to surveillance testing, which Brehm says is a limiting practice that might not represent the whole picture. “Teachers and staff are not allowed to go to school if they present with even one symptom. One symptom of COVID-19,” she said. “And so, you have to be asymptomatic to test positive, because if you aren’t at school, you don’t get to participate in testing,

Now, Brehm is working on another letter to the Scott Administration to say that while data shows low positivity rates in school, teachers and students are still members of the greater community.

“The purpose of the vaccination is to protect that educator from contracting the virus in the community and that allows them to continue to go work without bringing that virus to others,” said Don Tinney, President of the Vermont-NEA.

Tinney says thanks to masking and social distancing, many Vermont have been able to teach in the classroom. But as the state aims for in-person learning in the spring without a vaccine requirement, he wonders how teachers will be protected then. 

“If you increase the number of students, how do you do that and maintain the physical distancing,” said Tinney.

Brehm says her letter isn’t asking to take cuts in line or get vaccinated before Vermont’s most vulnerable population. Instead, it’s to find common ground. “My point wasn’t to shame or be angry by any means. It was just me exercising my right as a Vermonter saying, ‘Hey, this data doesn’t make sense to me, especially knowing how COVID-19 is affecting not just my school, but my district, and the Vermont community as a whole,'” she said. 

This week, Tinney will meet with Human Services Secretary Mike Smith to discuss a vaccine distribution system for teachers.

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