Op-Ed: Dear Governor Murphy, change your mind and vaccinate educators

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In an editorial, Jersey City Board of Education President Mussab Ali calls on Gov. Phil Murphy (D) to switch stances and get educators vaccinated as soon as possible.

Jersey City Board of Education President Mussab Ali. Photo via mussabali.com.

Governor Murphy, I am a big fan of your work. As a fellow progressive, I have celebrated as we passed the path to $15 minimum hourly wage and expanded paid sick leave.

I also appreciate your strong stance during the pandemic with mask mandates alongside restaurant and retail shutdowns. These laws resulted in NJ being one of the safest states in the country over the summer.

However, NJ has become a hotspot for cases again. As of Friday February 19th , New Jersey and New York are adding cases at rates higher than every other state except South Carolina.

We are well aware that students, educators, parents, along with school board members like ourselves want schools to reopen.

We are asking that you take the bold step of immediately prioritizing educators to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to assist with safely reopening schools. Ensuring educational staff have prompt access to vaccines aligns with federal priorities.

Both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have said that we must prioritize teachers getting the vaccine. As of February 11th, 28 states have made educators eligible for the vaccine.

Some urban health departments estimate that nearly 40% of the population within their jurisdictions are eligible to receive the vaccine as part of category 1B, which includes smokers.

Waiting until this phase ends could be too late for school employees who need protection before returning to in-person learning.

The extent to which schools pose a risk for community spread depends heavily on the extent to which widespread testing measures, sanitation, & ventilation efforts, and proper social distancing and quarantining can exist in schools.

However, in schools that are already overcrowded & underfunded, enabling our highly
exposed staff to get the vaccine is a more realistic plan than executing all of the above measures perfectly.

In the Jersey City school district, we have already lost 3 dedicated staff members to COVID-19 and we don’t want to lose anymore.

In order to properly run a school district of this size, we need to ensure that our staff are protected to keep schools open. Currently, all staff must quarantine when there is a COVID-19 case in their building.

If our staff were vaccinated, this would minimize the need to shut down a building due to a COVID concern. It is not too late to adjust your plan to include making school employees eligible to receive the vaccine.

California Governor Newsom just announced he would reserve 10% of the state’s first doses for teachers and school employees.

We should follow his lead. Despite the CDC’s recent comments that vaccinating teachers is not a mandatory prerequisite to schools reopening, it is still a highly recommended course of action.

In NJ you have often gone above and beyond federal guidelines, such as when you mandated masks outdoors over the summer before it was a recommendation from the CDC.

Governor, the schools are the backbone of our economy. During your campaign in 2017, I was often reminded that you would have our back. Will you protect the backbone of our economy by prioritizing teachers to get vaccinated?

Or will you continue to force schools, particularly urban school districts into impossible dilemmas?

It is no coincidence that our state’s three largest school districts – Newark Public Schools, Jersey City Public Schools, and Paterson Public Schools – have all been remote since the start of this year.

Please help us put our students and our communities first and prioritize New Jersey school employees to receive COVID-19 vaccine immediately.

Mussab Ali
President, Jersey City Board of Education
Harvard Law Class of 2023