Many NJ teachers say they support vaccine mandate, but some wonder if it will keep children safe


Gov. Phil Murphy’s official announcement on Monday that all public and private school employees will need to be vaccinated or tested regularly has garnered praise from some teachers and support from teachers’ unions, but a smaller group of educators criticized this decision.

On Monday, Murphy said all teachers and school staff were to be vaccinated by Oct. 18, or agree to be tested once or twice a week. The far-reaching mandate will apply not only to school employees, but to all government employees, Murphy said, including “those in all government agencies, authorities and public colleges and universities – whether they are full-time or part-time, or under contract. employees.”

The state’s largest teachers’ union has previously said it will support the mandate as long as there is a testing option. “Public health experts agree on the importance of widespread vaccination. This is why we strongly agree that Governor Murphy’s Order in Council is appropriate and responsible under the current conditions, ”said Steve Baker, spokesperson for the New Jersey Education Association last week.

The NJEA did not track the number of state educators vaccinated, but the National Education Association reported high rates of teacher immunization across the country, he added.

John M. Abeigon, president of the Newark Teachers Union, called the vaccination mandate wise.

“It’s about time,” Abeigon said. “The Newark Union has been advocating for compulsory vaccination of staff and students since the day [the vaccine] has been approved.”

“We have no problem withdrawing as long as they are doing regular testing,” he said of the union’s position. “You have the right to exercise the option for medical or religious reasons, but you do not have the right to infringe my right to work in a safe environment. “

With this announcement, New Jersey becomes one of the few states to make vaccination mandatory for teachers and school employees. California and Washington were the first to issue warrants for school personnel; Oregon and Connecticut announced warrants on Thursday. Washington has one of the strictest mandates, making vaccination a condition of employment.

Tracy DiTolla, administrator and art teacher at Warren County Community College, said she applauds the tenure, both as an educator and mother of young school children.

“I am ALL FOR demanding that teachers and staff be vaccinated,” DiTolla, who lives in Bergen County, said in a post via Facebook. “I’m not a Kindergarten to Grade 12 teacher, but I teach at Warren County Community College and have kids who go to schools in Oakland. I believe all teachers and administrators in my job are fully immunized and we didn’t need the governor to tell us to do so. “

Camden’s teacher Larry Blake agreed.

“Personally, I think everyone should understand,” said Blake, who teaches social studies at Henry H. Davis Elementary School. “It should be like the flu shot. I think it should be mandatory. “

But teachers who are against the mandate argue that it won’t necessarily ensure children’s safety.

A rally in Trenton on Tuesday to protest previously planned mask and program mandates will now also focus on vaccine requirements, said Jennifer Mess, teacher and event coordinator.

A private Facebook group of New Jersey teachers – named “Freedom Loving Teachers of NJ” – that the mess formed in May to support educators who disagree with some of the NJEA’s positions and who oppose to some recent terms has nearly doubled its membership after NJ Advance Media broke news Thursday that Murphy planned the term for teachers.

Mess, who planned the Trenton rally, said the membership of the private Facebook page had increased by 75% – from 800 members to over 1,400 – in just five days.

“Everyone knew it was going to fall,” said Mess, a performing arts professor at Monmouth County College, referring to the tenure. “[Anti-mandate] teachers feel very lonely in their neighborhood, they don’t know how to fight back. The Facebook group lets them know that there is a group that supports them and that is private.

Most of the teachers contacted who said they opposed a vaccination warrant said they did not want to be appointed because they said they feared reprisals from school administrators or unions. teachers.

“I am horrified by the idea of ​​a vaccination warrant, I believe in medical freedom and bodily autonomy,” said a special education teacher at a Monmouth County elementary school.

“I believe that no one has the right to tell me what to let into my body as a condition of anything – employment, education, or sponsorship of a business in New Jersey – but mostly as a condition of use.”

In Bridgewater, Maria Valentin, a learning disabilities consultant at Somerset County Vocational and Technical High School, said she and her colleagues supported measures to keep students and staff safe in schools.

She said minimizing exposure to the virus was a top priority at the school, which has been open since October 2020 because the nature of the curriculum makes distance learning impossible.

“Parents wanted their children to practice their craft,” said Valentin. “They can’t do it on Zoom, they can’t do remote carpentry or cosmetology, they need their tools and they have to be here.”

Valentin said most staff are vaccinated and the school is diligently enforcing masks, social distancing, and entry temperature checks, among others.

“We respect the health and safety of our students, and many of us are over 50, so we know this is all what’s best for us. “

A Point Pleasant high school teacher said he refuses to be vaccinated and rejects the idea that the injections offer the level of protection claimed by supporters.

“I strongly disagree with the governor’s attempt to force a vaccine in order to continue my job,” the teacher said. “I am not vaccinated and I will refuse to do so. I have the right to be responsible for my own health care decisions, NOT the government. “

Some teachers who oppose a vaccination warrant say masks – although they are also a divisive issue – have proven to be an effective school safety measure.

A teacher in Ocean County, who says she teaches all subjects from grades three to eight in a small public school, said she strongly opposed mandatory vaccinations.

“I was infected with the COVID-19 virus and survived, which gives me some immunity to the COVID-19 virus,” the teacher said. “A mandate to vaccinate all teachers and staff will not protect our most vulnerable population, our students too young to be vaccinated. “

The teacher noted that she has observed the effectiveness of the masks firsthand and believes that maintaining this safety measure will go a long way in curbing the spread of the virus.

“In the past school year, we had a lot less colds, coughs and illnesses in our school because all teachers, staff and students were wearing their masks. Teachers who are not vaccinated will not put students at risk if they continue to wear masks, ”she said.

Meanwhile, Jessica Cooley, an eighth-grade teacher at Garfield, is fully vaccinated, but said she was not convinced that a vaccination warrant is the answer to keeping COVID-19 safe.

“I think my school does an incredible job keeping me and the students safe,” she said, “a warrant is not necessary.”

“If schools take precautions and follow CDC guidelines as much as they can, we are protecting everyone enough,” said Cooley, who teaches English at Bergen Arts and Science Charter School. “We walk three feet apart down the hall, rotating the lunch so the students aren’t all eating at the same time, we’re wearing masks and the temperatures are being taken.”

A warrant can’t do much, she said, if many students remain unvaccinated and live in households with unvaccinated adults. Taken to his logical conclusion, Cooley argued, “If the goal is to protect our children, then vaccination should be mandatory for all who work with and are around children, including parents.

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Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.

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