Elementary school students can return to in-person learning two days a week beginning March 1 rather than one day per week, Harford County Public Schools announced on Wednesday—within the same hour that an estimated 2,000 HCPS employees across the county, including secondary educators, saw their COVID-19 vaccination appointments canceled by the Harford County Health Department due to lack of supply.
In a revision to its Return to In-Person Learning Plan announced just after 4 p.m. Wednesday, elementary school students can opt to attend schools in-person two days per week March 1, with the school system eyeing an expansion to four days per week of in-person education by April 1.
However, minutes earlier, secondary education teachers who had scheduled appointments via the Harford County Health Department to receive the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine received e-mails that those appointments had been canceled due to insufficient supply and a need to hold back second doses for those who have already received the first.
The Health Department’s e-mail suggested that the teachers instead look to private sources or state-run clinics to receive the vaccine.
“It is our understanding that in the next four to six weeks the national vaccine supply will enter the private sector and state run clinics will be operational,” the health department wrote in its e-mail. “You may wish to contact your private healthcare provider or reach out to your local pharmacy to find out when they might be receiving their supply of COVID-19 vaccine.”
In a separate e-mail to teachers later in the evening, HCPS Communications Manager Jillian Lader wrote that staff vaccinations were “not a requirement to return to in-person learning.”
“Please note, many concerned e-mails from staff have been received,” Lader said. “We have and continue to advocate that vaccines be made available to secondary school staff. At this time, we do not have additional information from HCHD that we can share with you.”
Lader told The Dagger Wednesday night that approximately 2,000 HCPS staff were scheduled to receive the vaccine next week, including secondary educators as well as Central Office staff. She said the school system does not know exactly how many HCPS staff have already been vaccinated, as registration for the vaccine clinics was maintained by the Health Department.
She said the school system was told that the Health Department did not anticipate being able to reschedule the cancelled appointments.
“As we were notified today that the HCHD did not foresee rescheduling clinics, we are actively looking at other options to support our remaining staff in receiving vaccines [and] interpreted the e-mail from the HCHD to read that staff should pursue private options,” she said.
Health Department Public Information Officer Molly Mraz did not immediately respond to questions Wednesday night.
In a post on social media, Chrystie Crawford-Smick, president of the Harford County Education Association, which represents approximately 3,800 HCPS employees in collective bargaining, said the appointment cancellations were “very concerning.”
“We are in contact with HCPS to discuss other possible options and next steps. We have also requested that they send a communication to clarify the situation,” she wrote. “HCEA feels the vaccine is a key component of reopening school buildings safely, especially while the positivity rate is above 5 percent.”
As of Wednesday, the county’s 14-day rolling average of COVID-19 test positivity stood at 7.2 percent.
From Harford County Public School teacher Ben White:
I am a teacher in Harford County. When I first heard that Harford County Public Schools was going to offer vaccinations to their employees, I was thankful for their forward-thinking attitude. Unfortunately, HCPS has just informed us that they have no vaccines to administer. However, in what has become a typical move for HCPS, they are going to plow ahead with their plans despite the obvious problems. We teachers received a robo-call telling us about the problem but echoing the Governor’s dangerous assertion that vaccination is not necessary for a return to in-person school. This is NOT what the research shows. The research cited by Governor Hogan and Superintendent Salmon cherry picks data from studies that are far from conclusive to support their decision. This is definitely not an adequate support for making state policy. What we know for sure is that if you are not in contact with the virus you cannot get it and cannot give it to others. With new, highly contagious variants showing up on almost a daily basis, now is not the time to jump the gun.
In order to be safe, teachers and students must be vaccinated BEFORE returning to the classroom. To the people who try to compare school to restaurants and nail salons, I respond that you don’t spend 8 hours in an Outback Steakhouse. The students will be spending 8 hours in close proximity to other students. A sick person visiting a restaurant puts others at risk for a few minutes. A sick student puts the rest of the school at risk for the whole day. What is more, they will be back tomorrow and the next day. Parents who are rushing to get their sons and daughters back in school need to understand that they are putting not only their children at serious risk but everyone else’s as well. Not to mention the teachers and other staff.
The hybrid model is the worst of all possible alternatives. AS in the fall, the students who will attend class will come in and sit down with their laptops. They will not even look at me since I will be teaching to the camera as I have been for most of this year. Nothing will change about the experience except that we will now be physically closer together and far more likely to transfer the virus.
No one wants to be back in the classroom more than teachers. But a teacher’s first priority is the safety of the students. When the elected leaders and even the student’s parents are clamoring for something that is simply not safe, we must stand up and say something. Wait until we have been vaccinated and then reopen the schools. A stich in time saves nine. In this case a vaccination in time saves lives. I feel certain that few parents would look back at this decision, if their child gets the virus and dies, and say, “it was worth it” We have waited this long. What are a few more weeks if it means we don’t have to unnecessarily lose young people to an avoidable disease? YouTube is full of videos of careless people who did an endzone dance on the 2-yard line only to crash and burn disastrously. Those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.