On Thursday, Gov. Wolf’s administration announced plans to provide vaccines to regional education authorities so that all public and non-public school staff can be vaccinated.
The state plans to distribute a first round of 94,600 Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines to 28 regional authorities along with other education partners and to establish new vaccination sites specifically for school staff.
“The approval of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine provides a great opportunity to launch this special initiative to vaccinate all teachers, child care workers, and school staff without interrupting the flow of vaccine local providers have already administered to more than 1.8 million Pennsylvanians,” Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Alison Beam said.
This came after Gov. Wolf and his COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force announced Wednesday that the now-approved J&J vaccine would be used to vaccinate PreK-12 school staff immediately.
Getting vaccines to school staff that have regular and sustained contact with students will be the top priority, the announcement said. Related support staff, bus drivers, transporters, and contracted service providers will also be included in that group.
“I was pleased to hear all school personnel would be eligible,” said Dan Goffredo, superintendent of Great Valley School District. “For our staff, having access to vaccinations was very important.”
Emily Ferdon, who teaches second grade at Indian Lane Elementary, is thrilled that school staff now have easy access to vaccine appointments. She also added that it acts as a key step toward students returning to in-person instruction full-time. She said her district is planning to resume in-person classes starting March 15.
“Even though I have not yet been vaccinated, I fully support having all the students back in the classroom as soon as possible,” Ferdon said. “I might not have a vaccine by March 15, but I still want all of my students in the classroom.”
Exactly when all students will return to the classroom is still up in the air and depends on the district and school. Goffredo noted that his district will resume four-day school weeks starting on March 16 through at least the end of April, and will consider moving to five-day weeks during that time.
“After giving the time needed, schools should begin the process of bringing more students back to the buildings,” said Richard Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association. “I believe you will see schools be closer to normal beginning in mid-April.”
Goffredo also said that he is “very optimistic” about students returning to the classroom for five full days per week next fall.
In the meantime, Chris Marchese, superintendent of Avon Grove School District, said schools have remained focused on maintaining safe classrooms.
“County health officials continue to stress that school environments are safe due to the tight protocols and contact tracing that is followed in our schools,” Marchese said.
Ferdon said that parents and students alike have to continue to follow any and all mitigation efforts. That includes mask-wearing, social distancing in classrooms, practicing proper hygiene, and completing daily symptom screenings.
That, along with vaccinating school staff, “should help the community feel safer when sending their students back into schools full-time,” she said.