'They deserve it': Darien officials praise prioritizing teachers for COVID vaccine

DARIEN — Teachers could start getting the vaccine as early as next week, according to the town’s Department of Health and the district’s superintendent.

The timing coincides with the last phase of Darien’s secondary students returning to in-person learning on Monday.

Despite the change, the leaders of the town and schools, both up for the vaccine in the next phase, say they will take a back seat on the list for those who need it first.

Though he will be eligible as an educator and by age for the next round, Schools Superintendent Alan Addley said he will wait as those who work directly with children on a daily basis get vaccinated first.

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, also eligible beginning next week, said Tuesday that as long as there are others who need the vaccine and supplies are limited, she will wait.

“I’m putting myself at the end of the line,” she said.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday the state will expand COVID-19 vaccination eligibility next month through defined age groups and to teachers, shifting priority away from essential workers and those with underlying medical conditions.

While state officials touted the new plan as a more efficient way to ramp up vaccinations, the approach deviates from guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the CT Food Association and several labor unions, criticized the governor for leaving behind frontline essential workers and those with medical conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID complications.

Under the new plan, people age 55 to 64 will next be eligible to receive the vaccine as of March 1. The state plans to make an exception for teachers, school workers and child care professionals, who will also be eligible to receive the vaccine next month at separate clinics, in schools wherever possible.

Darien is running vaccine clinics at the Mather Community Center at Town Hall. Addley said a clinic will be set up there for teachers.

He said several school employees have already been vaccinated, either due to their age or because they are medical workers.

“From what I have gathered, teachers are very excited that we will be eligible for the vaccine next week,” said Joslyn DeLancey, who is head of Darien’s teachers union and is a teacher at Tokeneke School.

“I won’t speak for everyone as I haven’t surveyed, but I will say that I personally will feel more comfortable in the classroom after having both doses of the vaccine,” she said.

DeLancey said the district has recently had more staff cases.

“Although we can’t always directly link the cases to school exposure, we do think it to be true in some cases,” she said.

DeLancey said a vaccine for teachers and school staff is “a huge step forward in getting back to some sort of normalcy and consistent in person learning for all.”

“We are hoping the town can get a clinic in place for teachers and other school employees in order to get us vaccinated as soon as possible,” she said.

Addley said he is working with town health director David Knauf to begin teachers’ clinics next week through March. He said it will be held in the Mather gymnasium where the rest of the clinic is being held.

“It is exciting for our teachers. They will get a bit of understandable security and comfort. It’s also good for kids in the rest of the state who are currently not in school,” Addley said.

“I’m so glad the state has now seen teachers as a priority,” he said.

Addley said he intends to be “last on the list” though he will be eligible.

“I assure you I will not be in the front of everyone who works in the schools or goes to visit the schools,” he said.

Addley said he’s glad to see the state has made educators a priority.

“They deserve it,” he said.