Teachers get vaccines, return to school buildings
By Collin Riviello
On Feb. 17, just three weeks after Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) staff received priority status for the COVID-19 vaccine, CEO Dr. Monica Goldson announced a hybrid-learning schedule to get students back into classrooms starting in April.
According to Goldson, the two-phase plan starts on April 8 and allows students in grades K-6, 12th-graders and all special education students into the schools. Then on April 15, students in grades 7-11 will return. Special education students will receive four days of in-person instruction a week, and all other students will receive two days of in-person instruction.
Goldson noted that school-based staff, including teachers and paraeducators can teach virtually from their classrooms on March 3. By March 17, all school-based staff must return to their classrooms.
In January, PGCPS announced that all staff, regardless of county residency, would be eligible for free vaccinations at either the Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex in Landover or the Kaiser Permanente Lanham Rehabilitation Center in Lanham.
Gabrielle Brown, media relations director for PGCPS, said that about 9,000 staff have expressed interest in receiving the vaccine. As of press time, information about how many PGCPS staff have been vaccinated was not available.
“We are working with our partners to gather data on vaccination appointments on a rolling basis,” said Brown. “But we recognize that some of our employees will receive their vaccinations through their own means, meaning they did not sign up using a PGCPS-provided appointment link.”
Caitlin Cooper, a reading intervention specialist at Hyattsville Middle School, was one of the 9,000 staff members who expressed interest in receiving a vaccine. Cooper was selected by the lottery that PGCPS used to schedule appointments. Cooper said that, in addition to concerns about her asthma, the well-being of her students was at the forefront of her mind when she decided to sign up for the vaccine.
“Most of my students come from multi-generational households,” Cooper said. “If they bring COVID home, that could really devastate them. So even if they don’t get sick … they could get their grandparents sick.”
Another reason Cooper believed that being vaccinated was imperative has to do with the nature of her job. Reading intervention specialists give small-group instruction to students who need extra reading support. Since PGCPS has prioritized the return of special education students, many of Cooper’s students will return to the classroom first.
And while Cooper believes that the list of priority students should also include English Language Learners who make up 40% of her class roster, she understands the limitations that PGCPS was working with when deciding who receives more in-person instruction first.
“It will be hard enough to maintain social distancing, as is. My classroom can fit eight students with 6 feet of distance. If all [of my] students were to select in-person learning, the maximum class size would be 10,” said Cooper.
While PGCPS was trying to figure out how to get students safely back into the classrooms, Cooper and her staff team were working hard to minimize students’ loss of instruction brought on by virtual learning. Of her 90 students, she said that 70% of them have either maintained or grown their reading skills during the pandemic.
“Learning loss is tied to the discussion of opening schools, and I wanted to make clear my co-workers and I work very hard to mitigate this, and it is paying off,” said Cooper. “Hyattsville Middle students are still getting an education.”
PGCPS was one of the last school systems in Maryland to release a reopening plan. According to Maryland.gov, the county lags behind the rest of the state when it comes to vaccinating the community, with just under 9% of county residents having received a COVID-19 vaccination, as of March 4th.