In recent weeks, teachers and educational staff working within Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) have begun to receive vaccinations for COVID-19. This comes as a long-awaited relief for many educators, parents, and students, as it signals that BUSD’s proposed hybrid learning plan may be able to proceed as early as March 29.
Most vaccine doses for BUSD employees are being coordinated through the city of Berkeley, which is operating a large-scale vaccination site at the Golden Gate Fields racetrack. Berkeley educators began receiving vaccinations in February, when Alameda County shifted to Phase 1B of its vaccine prioritization framework. Phase 1B encompasses essential workers — including teachers and some district staff — as well as individuals over the age of 65.
According to Berkeley Federation of Teachers (BFT) President Matt Meyer, the district’s current progress in vaccinating BUSD teachers has been a cause for hope.
“Some were skeptical that vaccines would be going out to teachers at this point, but it’s happening,” Meyer said. “We’re incredibly excited that this has kicked off … many of our pre-K-5 teachers have received their first doses and many more have appointments scheduled for the next few weeks.”
Meyer added that BUSD teachers have been receiving different vaccines — both Pfizer and Moderna — which means that the timespan between the first and second doses will vary. Despite this, Meyer believes that the vaccination progress has created confidence that Berkeley schools will return to partial in-person instruction in the near future.
Becky Villagran, a history teacher in Berkeley International High School at Berkeley High School (BHS), recently received her first dose of the vaccine.
“Getting vaccinated was a really joyful experience. I feel so lucky,” Villagran said. “I think mass vaccination of teachers is the only way we can begin to return to school safely this year.”
Villagran added that vaccinating teachers long before they are scheduled to return to partial in-person instruction could be unethical. She expressed concern over the prioritization of teachers as opposed to other essential workers, as some workers have jobs that can only be performed face-to-face, unlike teachers.
According to Villagran and Meyer, many teachers were dismayed by a mistake in scheduling that occurred early on in the vaccination process. This scheduling issue was the result of miscommunication between the city, district, and staff, Meyer explained. In February, teachers were notified that “educators working in person” were eligible to receive vaccinations. Believing that this applied to soon-to-return BUSD educators, many teachers signed up for appointments.
“Those teachers who had already scheduled their appointments were then told that they didn’t qualify, which was really disheartening,” Meyer said. “It also seems that the entire state roll out is disjointed.”
Villagran explained that BUSD’s chaotic vaccination process has heightened many teachers’ worries, as some are at a high-risk for complications if they get COVID-19, or live with other vulnerable individuals.
“The website is glitchy, and some teachers have been getting vaccination codes while others have not,” Villagran said. “[The roll out] seems to be pretty messy, and I think a lot of teachers are frustrated.”
According to Meyer, BUSD has opted to not mandate vaccinations for educators and other staff. BFT views teachers’ decision of whether or not to be vaccinated as an individual judgement, Meyer said. He added, however, that BFT has been encouraging all staff to receive vaccinations for their safety and efficacy.
“We know that having a high vaccination rate is going to be absolutely essential to returning to school,” Meyer said. “At the end of the day, we believe we can achieve that.”