NEWBURYPORT — A group of school superintendents and teachers union presidents from the North Shore are urging Gov. Charlie Baker to move teachers into Phase 1 of the COVID-19 vaccination plan as a way to get students back into their classrooms.

Union presidents and the 29 school superintendents who comprise the North Shore Superintendents’ Round Table wrote to Baker with the argument that teachers are essential personnel and should be given priority when it comes to the vaccine.

Under current guidelines, teachers are in Phase 2 of the rollout plan scheduled for between February and March.

The school administrators’ letter said state and federal guidelines reflect the importance of in-person learning and the sooner educators are vaccinated, the sooner traditional, in-school classes can resume.

Pentucket Regional School District Superintendent Justin Bartholomew signed the letter to Baker and said Tuesday that educators are essential personnel just as much as health workers, police officers and firefighters.

“If we put ourselves into the situation where we have to go remote, that means that everybody has to stay at home,” Bartholomew said. “People won’t be able to go to work and that is not a benefit to society. That allows other things in society to operate and function on a somewhat normal level. The education for the children is also so much better in person.”

Many teachers in the Pentucket district tend to be older and many retired educators often return to school to work as substitutes, putting them at a greater risk of complications if they were to contract the virus, Bartholomew said.

“Each of our teachers comes into contact with about 100 people a day. You might come into contact with 20 people or so at an elementary school but that is every day,” Bartholomew said. “We have mitigating pieces that we have put in the place like air scrubbers and the PPE but, still, when you have children coming in, they need to have their shoelaces tied and you also have some high-need situations where you have to get within a 6-foot distance. So, if you want children to come back, you have to make sure that people are vaccinated. That is the first huge hurdle in making everyone feel comfortable.”

Newburyport Superintendent Sean Gallagher agreed with Bartholomew and also signed the letter.

“As educators, we want all of our students back,” Gallagher said. “If we can vaccinate the teachers and support staff, then we can bring more students back, which is ultimately the goal of the governor and the commissioner of education. So you would think that would be part of the planning process. We want to make sure that we are having our students back but we want to make sure we are doing it in the safest way.”

Triton Regional School District Superintendent Brian Forget, who also signed on, said, “Like first responders, the majority of the work that we do does not allow the staff to keep a six-foot distance. Given the nature of education, anyone working with the special needs population or younger students, just can’t teach kids effectively from afar. This needs to be a priority.” 

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