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BCPS To Begin Vaccinations, But Reopening Remains "Up In The Air"

Sean Naron, Baltimore County

Baltimore County teachers and staff will begin receiving the COVID-19 vaccine this week, but it is unclear how that will affect when school buildings reopen for students. All of the county’s school buildings have been closed since March.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski said at a news conference in Towson Tuesday those who will be vaccinated first will be the ones who will be working in the first schools that are to reopen under the school system’s reentry plan.

“This week. BCPS also will be sending staff to shadow our team at the Timonium vaccination center so they can learn best practices from our experts,” Olszewski said. “This will allow BCPS to stand up their own vaccinating clinics in partnership with the Department of Health in the coming days.”

Educators are now eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine because they are among those in Phase 1B. That phase went into effect Monday.

Cindy Sexton, the president of TABCO, the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said she was briefed on some the details of the vaccination plan Tuesday. She said teachers and staff at the four special schools for disabled students will be vaccinated first. Those schools provide intensive instruction and support. Sexton estimates several hundred people at those schools will receive the vaccine.

“It would include the paraeducators, and lunch aides and bus drivers who work with those students,” Sexton said.

School officials targeted those four schools, Maiden Choice, Ridge Ruxton, Battle Monument and White Oak, to reopen first because those students are the ones most in need of face-to-face instruction.

Sexton said vaccinations of employees will not necessarily mean schools will reopen right away.

“To my knowledge, we’re still going by the metrics in the reopening plan and nothing in there yet mentions anything about the vaccine, so still a lot up in the air,” Sexton said.

She added that would be something BCPS would need to bring to the unions to come to an agreement.

BCPS has nearly 17,000 employees.

In a letter that went out to BCPS staff on Friday, School Superintendent Darryl Williams said vaccinations would begin this Friday, January 22.

“Due to our size and the unknown availability of the vaccine, we are organizing BCPS employees into priority groups,” Williams wrote. “Over time, all BCPS employees will have the opportunity to register for the vaccine.”

It is not known how many doses of the vaccine will be available to BCPS employees on Friday.

Sexton said teachers are excited about the prospect of getting the COVID vaccine.

“I just heard from a few that say make sure we get both doses before any reentry back into schools,” Sexton said.

Also, at Tuesday’s news conference Olszewski said more than 72,000 county residents have signed up with the county online vaccine registry that was made available Friday. Olszewski said the county wants everyone to sign up, even if they are not among the people who currently are eligible to get a vaccine.

Olszewski asked for patience.

“Local governments are the end of the supply chain,” he said. “We, like all local jurisdictions continue to face a severely limited supply of vaccine doses. We only receive a few thousand vaccines per week.”

Baltimore County Health Officer Dr. Gregory Branch said they want to make sure everyone signs up to be vaccinated, especially those in the hard-hit African American and Latino communities.

“The virus has disproportionately affected these communities,” Branch said.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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