Schools

Teachers get vaccines, breathe sigh of relief

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Zoe Morgan/Town Crier
Los Altos High School history teacher Todd Wangsness receives his first COVID-19 vaccine dose at Levi’s Stadium Saturday.

For Almond School sixth-grade teacher Anju Vriksha, getting vaccinated against COVID-19 means the chance to go home. Vriksha has been staying in a friend’s cottage since she started teaching in person in January, because she feared infecting her immunocompromised mother, whom she lives with.

Getting her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine last week was a relief, Vriksha said. Her mother is also a teacher and has received her first dose. Once they’re both fully vaccinated, Vriksha plans to move back home.

“I’ve never been so excited to get a vaccine, ever before in my life,” Vriksha said. “I could barely sleep, because I kept waking up, thinking, ‘Is it day yet? Is it day yet?’”

Teachers, as well as other education and child care workers, became eligible to get vaccinated in Santa Clara County Feb. 28. Those cleared to get vaccines include all school staff, formal and informal child care workers, all staff in colleges and community colleges, as well as technical and trade schools, and other workers such as school bus drivers and crossing guards.

The county and state are both expanding their efforts to vaccinate educators. The state plans to set aside 10% of its vaccine supply for child care workers and staff at K-12 schools. Santa Clara County has opened a vaccine site focusing on educators at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. Originally, county officials said only educators who live within the county would be eligible for vaccination. Now, any educator who lives or works in the county is included.

Game changer

Getting teachers vaccinated has raised hopes that schools may reopen for in-person learning more quickly. Locally, the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District announced a plan last week to bring teachers and students back in a hybrid model starting April 19.

MVLA teachers’ union president David Campbell attributed that deal in part to vaccine access, saying in a text that teachers getting vaccinated “changed the game for us.”

Los Altos High School history teacher and chief union negotiator Todd Wangsness similarly said in an interview that teachers becoming eligible for vaccines is what made the return deal possible from the union’s point of view. He added that getting teachers vaccinated also protects students and their families, by reducing the risk of spreading the virus.

“I think it’s a wise policy if we want to get kids in schools this year,” Wangsness said.

He personally got his first vaccine dose at Levi’s Stadium Saturday, along with his wife Margaret Bennett, an English teacher at Los Altos High.

Bennett said she thinks it’s important for teachers to be vaccinated before they return to the classroom, not just to protect themselves, but also those they interact with, like her 87-year-old father. Once she’s fully vaccinated, Bennett said she is ready to teach in person again.

“I feel great. If I’m 100% vaccinated, I am ready to go back to class,” she said. “I have no problem. I’m excited to be there.”

Los Altos High social studies teacher Chelsea Doiguchi got her first vaccine dose last week, noting the sign-up process has been difficult. Although she and her colleagues have largely been able to find appointments, Doiguchi said they have relied on word-of-mouth and forwarding links to sites with available slots.

“It’s definitely a relief that I have at least one of the doses down,” she said.

Doiguchi said she will feel more comfortable returning to school once fully vaccinated, though she has concerns about finding child care for her two kids. In a follow-up email, Doiguchi added that if she isn’t able to find child care, she hopes the district will either let her keep teaching from home or provide an option for on-campus supervision for teachers’ children.

Like Doiguchi, Blach Intermediate School science teacher Meghan Greenbaum said it was a relief to get her first vaccine dose last week. Greenbaum is slated to return to the classroom next week, when in-person classes resume for eighth-graders. She had been nervous about heading back to school and seeing more than 100 students a week, because she said that even with all the precautions the district has been taking, there was still the worry she might bring the virus home.

Now that her parents, who watch her daughter, are fully vaccinated, and she has gotten her first dose, Greenbaum said she’s happy to see her students in person again.

“I don’t have the reservations that I had about heading back into the classroom,” Greenbaum said. “I’m looking forward to it."

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