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Providence educators respond to statewide COVID-19 vaccination effort

Gov. McKee’s vaccination plan for Rhode Island teachers, staff, childcare workers elicits excitement, appreciation

Gov. Dan McKee announced a plan last week to vaccinate all teachers, staff and child care workers who wish to be vaccinated in Rhode Island. As per the governor's plan, all teachers and staff in Providence will be provided with the opportunity to sign up for a vaccination appointment administered through municipal clinics. 

There is a designated clinic at 335R Prairie Ave. in Providence, for public, private and charter school educators and staff who work in Providence, according to Providence Public School District Spokesperson Laura Hart. This clinic, which is supported by the Partnership for Rhode Island and Lifespan, is especially helpful “given the size of the school communities in Providence,” Hart wrote in an email to The Herald.

Linda Castellone, an English as a Second Language teacher at Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School in Providence, said the new vaccination plan was communicated to her and other teachers via an email from the superintendent several days after the governor’s initial announcement. The plan specifically offers appointments to teachers and staff, providing an alternative route to vaccination than the typical online sign-up.

“We were four or five days into the process of trying (to get the vaccine) when the email came out,” Castellone said.

While the news came as a relief to teachers who have been in classrooms since September, “many of them (had) already been vaccinated for the first shot in the series of two, and (had) appointments for the second shot” by the time of the announcement, according to Providence Teachers Union President Maribeth Calabro. 

The email to teachers said the 335R Prairie location would be open on Wednesdays and Saturdays for a duration of six weeks, and instructed them “not (to) call to make appointments prior to your designated date,” Castellone said.

Teachers working both in high schools and the Virtual Learning Academy, a high school education program for families who desired a fully remote learning experience, will be first to get the vaccine, according to Calabro. High school teachers were prioritized “because their students are out in the community more,” and VLA teachers were included among the first to be vaccinated as many of them are high risk, she said.

“I just think that’s a big insult,” Castellone said, referring to the restrictions on which teachers will receive the vaccine first. “We have been face-to-face in school since Sept. 1 every single day in one of the top two cities in the state for COVID rates,” she said.

But many teachers are glad to have an alternative method of signing up for vaccines at CVS, Walgreens and Vaccinate RI, according to Calabro. She also said that teachers generally believe that McKee was quick to prioritize the vaccination of teachers. 

“We truly believe that we should have been prioritized and we (are) glad that our new governor … was able to do that for us,” Calabro said. “It came as a huge relief to teachers.”

The widespread vaccination effort will put Rhode Island educators “at ease,” Castellone said. She said that once fully vaccinated, teachers will be able to focus entirely on student needs without having to worry about their exposure to COVID-19.

While requiring staff vaccinations down the road “is not an issue we are discussing at this time,” Hart wrote, PPSD “prioritizes the health and well-being of all its community members and welcomes every science-based tool to combat the spread of the virus.” 

Despite the prioritization of vaccines for teachers, “the way that class sizes (are) currently running” are unlikely to change, Calabro said. That being said, “parents may feel a little more comfortable sending their students (to school) once they feel like the majority of educators have been vaccinated. So we may see a resurgence of students coming back into brick and mortar.”

But Calabro said there are still concerns that there will be a shortage of the second COVID-19 shot and that, due to side effects, staff will have to take “a day or two (off) until the reaction subsides.”


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