All 29 superintendents who make up the North Shore Superintendents’ Round Table, along with the teachers' union presidents from each district, urge Gov. Charlie Baker to move teachers up to the first phase of the state's COVID-19 vaccination plan.

In their letter to the governor on Jan. 22, school leaders point out that both state and federal guidelines emphasize the importance of in-person learning. The sooner teachers are vaccinated, they argue, the sooner students can return to the classroom.

Currently, teachers are eligible to receive the vaccine in the second phase of the state's rollout, which is estimated to begin in February and continue into March.

“School is an important part of society,” said Julia Brotherton, the president of the Beverly Teachers Association. “It is an important societal function and we want that to get back to normal as soon as possible. Vaccinating teachers is one of the key ways we can do that.”

Brotherton said getting students back to school full-time would benefit both parents and students. In Beverly, students in all grades have a mix of in-person and remote learning. 

“I've taught both remote and in-person,” she said, “and there is no comparison to the different kinds of interactions you have with students in person.”

Stephen Zrike, the superintendent of Salem Public Schools, agreed.

“Our educators have done a phenomenal job, but it's just not the same effectiveness of learning when you are behind the screen and the social interaction isn't there,” he said. In Salem, most grades have some level of in-person learning, but some high school grades are still learning remote-only.

“There isn't the opportunity to provide direct face-to-face instruction, which we know is valuable for learners,” he said.

Zrike said in-person learning has social and emotional advantages along with academic advantages. 

“The mental health concerns (the school physician) is seeing from the youth are getting more and more acute as young people have been isolated from their peers. There aren't as many activities for them to engage in, and they desperately miss the social connection that comes with school,” he said.

Teachers want to be face-to-face with their students, Zrike added, but they have justifiable concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

Peabody Superintendent Josh Vadala reiterated these concerns and added that until teachers get vaccinated and students are brought back to the classroom full-time, a student’s education will be dependent on where they live.

“I think that's challenging, and one community shouldn’t have different opportunities than another,” Vadala said. “Education is supposed to be the great equalizer, so anything that would help get teachers back in school and kids back in school is a huge priority not only for our educators and students, but for society as a whole.”

He added that now that the majority of Phase 1 workers are eligible for the vaccine, this is a timely matter.

“The desire to increase the number of students in the schools is really predicated on taking care of our teachers and making sure they feel safe and supportive," he said.

Staff writer Erin Nolan can be reached at 978-338-2534, by email at enolan@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @erin_nolan.

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