Region 14 school board votes to open outside investigation into COVID vaccine debacle as teachers union plans no-confidence vote

Steven Goode, Hartford Courant
·3 min read

The Region 14 Board of Education has voted to launch an outside investigation into the actions of Superintendent Joe Olzacki and other central office employees for their role in a recent COVID-19 vaccination clinic that allowed school board officials to be vaccinated before teachers and residents over 75.

Wednesday’s action was brought on by complaints from the Nonnewaug Teachers Association, which alleged that some central office employees, school board members and their spouses jumped the line to get inoculated, preventing some classroom teachers from receiving a limited number of doses of the vaccine at a clinic last month in Southbury.

Board of education chairman George Bauer said Thursday that the school board was seeking an understanding of the “whole scenario” including what guidance the state Department of Public Health offered before the clinic.

Bauer said he expected the investigation to include whether board members’ spouses were inoculated before all the teachers had an opportunity.

“If I had known there wasn’t enough vaccine to do all the educators, I would have said prioritize teachers that are working with children every day,” Bauer said.

Union president Chris York said in a written statement Thursday that while he understood the need for an investigation, he believed that it should cover the context in which it occurred.

York said concerns center on Olzacki and the district’s COVID coordinator, Mark Hartunian, who was charged with notifying Regional District 14 employees about the clinic, which also included employees from Regional District 15 and Oxford schools. Region 14 includes Woodbury and Bethlehem.

“I do not, for a minute, believe the Covid coordinator acted on his own,” York said. “Just in the last few days we have learned of an additional BOE member and the spouse of a Central Office administrator who attended the vaccine clinic,” he said.

York also questioned why Olzacki was not placed on paid leave during the investigation, which is typically the case with teachers.

“We are moving forward with our no-confidence vote, calling for the resignation of the superintendent and covid director taking place today,” York said Thursday.

Olzacki has declined to comment on who received vaccines citing medical privacy provisions, but also defended the district’s decision to allow district employees and volunteers who aren’t teachers to sign up for the clinic.

The Pomperaug Health District, which coordinated the vaccine clinic, listed “elected officials” in its grouping of people who would be eligible for the clinic, but York said the event was for teachers only.

Bauer disagreed.

“My perception is that it was for the district altogether, not just teachers,” he said.

As for the investigation, Olzacki said it “is a healthy way to proceed.”

The state Department of Public Health and state Department of Education have also opened in inquiry into the event.

In light of the controversy, the state Department of Public Health has determined that members of boards of educations and their spouses won’t be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations when teachers become eligible for them, likely sometime in March.

“In the weeks to come, more information will be forthcoming on who within the broad categories of frontline essential workers, which does include education and child care workers, will be eligible to schedule vaccination appointments,” DPH spokeswoman Maura Fitzgerald said in an email last week.

“School board members and their spouses are not included in the education and child care worker category.”

The issues surrounding the Southbury clinic are all the more complex because the teachers themselves were not technically eligible for vaccines. Confusion between the state and local districts led to hundreds of teachers being registered for vaccines out of turn. At this point, the only group eligible to make appointments as part of Phase 1B of the state’s vaccine plan are adults 75 and older.

Steven Goode can be reached at sgoode@courant.com.