DEPTFORD, NJ — New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli have announced their plan to begin vaccinations for tens of thousands of New Jersey’s school teachers.
During the pandemic, teachers in New Jersey have been in the classroom, but in some cases, the children have not. COVID-19 restrictions prevent full classrooms. Many districts are on a hybrid, shortened schedule which splits the student population each day. As the children rotate days, the teachers do not, many spending the entire week, plus after class special assistance for additional hours daily.
Governor Phil Murphy and other state leaders on Saturday visited the Rowan College of South Jersey COVID-19 Mega-Vaccination Site in Deptford Township to watch the first few educators in the state receive their vaccinations to kick off the eligibility period for teachers, support staff, and childcare professionals.
Jack DeAngelo, deputy coordinator of emergency management for Gloucester County, and Marc Pellegrino, incident commander for the New Jersey All-Hazards Incident Management Team, led the dignitaries in a tour around the facility, stopping and greeting vaccine administrators and those getting the shots, who responded with elbow bumps and waves.
Touting the facility as the highest-performing mega-site for vaccinations in the state, and one of the highest performing in the country, Murphy told the educators they are “the tip of the spear and the beginning of what is going to be a tremendous campaign.”
Theresa Kerney, a cosmetology teacher for more than three decades at the Gloucester County Institute of Technology, a vocational-technical public high school in Deptford Township, was the first in the group of educators to receive the vaccine, calling it a “game changer.”
“And it’s now back to the classroom,” she said.
Kerney also indicated how thrilled she was “to be a symbol for all the teachers who want to say, ‘thank you – we’re so excited to be able to educate our students and to be able to get them back into the classroom and have a normalcy of life again,” she said.
“And it’s just wonderful to be selected – I feel so honored, and I can’t tell how special that is to me,” she added.
The room burst into applause upon Kerney receiving the vaccine, with five of her colleagues from Gloucester County Institute of Technology and the Gloucester County Special Services School District following her in line for the next shots.
“When I see the teachers, I think about the kids,” said New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “They have to get back to school – the social aspects of school and the learning. I am always concerned about these kids being left behind. We know that remote working is difficult. Remote learning for kids is also difficult. I look at the teachers, and I say, ‘God bless you; we need you. Let’s get back to school. The kids need you.’”
NJEA President Marie Blistan applauded the effort and said the state should also include higher education teachers and professors.
“Gov. Murphy’s announcement that he is adding educators to the vaccine priority list is an important step toward New Jersey’s emergence from this pandemic,” Blistan. “With nearly 1.4 million students and over 200,000 adults, one out of every six New Jersey residents is connected directly to our public schools. Count the families they go home to and no institution in our state directly connects to more individuals than our public schools. The sooner educators are vaccinated, the sooner our entire state is safer.”
Blistan call on the administration to immediately extend that access to employees in higher education who are equally as exposed and equally as critical to fully reopening the state for in-person instruction.
“At every level, New Jersey educators have worked tirelessly to educate our students and have advocated tirelessly to protect them and our communities throughout this pandemic by demanding high standards for health and safety,” Blistan said. “We stand ready to work with the Murphy administration, other elected leaders, school districts and colleges to ensure that our members can access the promised vaccinations quickly and efficiently.”