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"It's Coming." Baltimore County School Teachers Await COVID Vaccine

Dr. Darryl Williams
John Lee
Dr. Darryl Williams

Many Baltimore County teachers won’t be fully vaccinated by the time students start returning to classrooms next month.

And the school system doesn’t know exactly which teachers have had their shots, according to spokesman Charles Herndon.

In a statement, he said the software being used at the county’s COVID vaccination clinic at the Maryland State Fairgrounds records someone as an educator but doesn’t specify where they work. So, private and public school teachers are lumped together.

The school system has been offered around 1,600 vaccinations for its employees at the county clinic so far, but it’s not known if all of those were distributed.

Also, some teachers have gotten their shots elsewhere.

“Many of our staff have gotten shots through other processes and avenues, though we don't know how many unless they self-report,” Herndon wrote. 

Diane Rice Johnson a Pre-K teacher at Church Lane Elementary School in Randallstown, has already received the first of her vaccines. Johnson says it’s relieving the anxiety over being in a classroom.

“I feel like the vaccine gives me an opportunity to move in the direction to kind of getting my life back, a little bit more normalcy for me, and for the students,” Johnson said. 

Of BCPS’s 18,000 employees, Johnson is among the 2,500 educators targeted to get vaccinated first. That’s because her students are among the first wave of those returning to classrooms, according to Deborah Somerville, the coordinator of health services for the Baltimore County Public Schools.

“It was a variety of employees that we kind of identified based on job duties and contact with students,” Somerville said.

Other school employees identified for the first wave of vaccine include teachers in the county’s four schools for disabled children. Those students will return the week of March 1, along with Pre-K through 2nd graders whose parents opt for the hybrid model.  

Somerville said some educators got the misimpression that once they were eligible for the vaccine, they would get it.

Somerville said, “They’re feeling somewhat frantic about, ‘I don’t know how to get my shot yet.’ And the truth is you’re eligible, but the vaccine isn’t here yet and you will get your shot. Deep breath, it’s coming.”

Under the reopening plan, elementary school teachers return to school buildings in less than three weeks.

Cindy Sexton, the president of TABCO, the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said some educators who are expected to be among the first back in the classroom have heard nothing yet about getting a vaccine.

“There are educators in that group who have not gotten a link to register, so it’s not been a flawless rollout for sure,” Sexton said.

TABCO’s leadership has demanded that educators be given the opportunity to be fully vaccinated before returning to classrooms.

But at last week’s school board meeting, board vice-chair Julie Henn said that is not the message coming from the state.

“We’ve heard from the state that vaccines are not a dependency on opening, and that there is, and this is subjective, but no public health concern that would prevent us from reopening,” Henn said.

Somerville, the school system’s health services coordinator said it is safe to reopen if mitigation guidelines are followed.

Sexton with the teachers’ union said after the school system’s reopening plan was released Monday, the number one concern she heard from teachers is that they will not be vaccinated before they have to return to the classroom.

“They have heard the message that it’s not a requirement to go back,” Sexton said. “They still want the vaccine before they return.”

Teachers are not required to get the vaccine. Superintendent Darryl Williams told the school board last week that about 20% of employees surveyed said they didn’t want it.

For the 80% who do, County Health Officer Doctor Gregory Branch said the school system needs to take over running vaccination clinics for its employees to take the pressure off his staff.

Somerville said that can happen soon.

“We are very close to that point,” Somerville said. “I believe that we should be there in a week or so.”

She said they will vaccinate staff with the help of school nurses, nursing assistants and hundreds of volunteers.

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