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PEABODY, MA —Peabody Superintendent of Schools Josh Vadala said he has watched teachers in his district head to the classroom diligently for the past four months to provide students as much in-person learning as possible and believes educators should be prioritized in the state's coronavirus vaccine rollout.
Vadala told Patch on Thursday he is also hopeful that will still be the case despite Gov. Charlie Baker saying last week that educations had been moved to the back end of Phase Two of the rollout that begins on Monday.
"It was a little disappointing to hear that the governor bumped teachers down one level," Vadala said. "It is encouraging that Phase Two starts on Monday. Moving up to Phase One at this point might be a moot point, but we're still advocating that teachers be vaccinated as soon as possible."
Vadala told Patch that while the district "didn't get any news (to that effect Thursday) there is still some hope we may get some news by the end of the week or the beginning of next week."
Salem Superintendent Stephen Zrike shared a similar sentiment during his weekly Facebook Live session on Wednesday.
"Certainly, our teachers and staff are eagerly awaiting more information and we'll be sharing that with them as soon as we know it," Zrike said.
Vadala and Zrike were two of 29 members of the North Shore Superintendents' Round Table that sent a letter, along with teacher union presidents, to Gov. Baker urging him to move educators into Phase One of the vaccine rollout last week.
"We will continue our advocacy on that end because we believe that it is so important for our kids to get as much in-person learning as possible," Vadala said. "We want to support our teachers. They want to be in school. But if they have to quarantine, they have to stay home."
While those vaccinated are still encouraged to abide by mask and social distancing protocols, health care workers who have received their second shot are no longer required to quarantine if they are a close contact with someone who tests positive for the virus.
Peabody High School was forced to go to remote learning for a week earlier this month because some students and teachers contracted the virus and because the number of teachers forced to quarantine because of being a "close contact" prevented adequate staffing of the school.
Vadala said while that situation has improved significantly over the past three weeks, vaccinations could go a long way toward making such remote learning breaks a thing of the past.
"Our numbers have definitely come down over the post-holiday surge," Vadala said. "I believe we made the right decision to go remote that one week. Everybody did a great job and since then attendance has been great."
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Vadala said schools, which have experience in the logistics of vaccinations through conducting their own flu shot clinics, could be a partner to the state in getting more of the general public vaccinated for the coronavirus.
"We want to help any way we can," he said.
He also said that while he wants all educators in the state to be vaccinated as soon as possible, he could support a scenario Zrike has advocated where those who teach in dense population areas — which generally have had higher coronavirus rates —are eligible for the vaccine ahead of the general education population.
"I can see a need to prioritize the highest risk areas," he allowed. "There are some students who have not had in-person class since March 12 (of 2020). I do recognize there are some of our neighboring communities who have not had a single day of in-person learning in almost a year.
"The city you live in should not determine your education opportunity."
(Scott Souza is a Patch field editor covering Beverly, Danvers, Marblehead, Peabody, Salem and Swampscott. He can be reached at Scott.Souza@Patch.com. Twitter: @Scott_Souza.)
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