New Jersey’s teachers and school staff became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, March 5.

With that universal eligibility, many school districts in the state redoubled their efforts to help their educators get vaccinated through a variety of strategies, from connecting teachers with parent “vaccine angel” volunteers who are helping to make vaccine appointments to arranging a formal partnership with a local healthcare provider.

“NJSBA salutes the creativity and the efforts of districts helping to get school staff vaccinated,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director. “These efforts will make in-person learning safer for teachers, support staff and students.”

Monmouth County Efforts Sean McNeil, superintendent of the Fair Haven School District in Monmouth County, helped organize a partnership with the Visiting Nurse Association of Central Jersey Community Health Center (VNACJ), to prioritize district employees for vaccination.  VNACJ Community Health Center, which was already a vaccination provider, set up a closed portal for school employees.  Employees go online to register, and then VNACJ checks with the district to ensure that those registering are indeed staff members.  Once they receive that confirmation from the district, vaccine appointments are confirmed. “It is humbling to see how our staff has stepped up in the past year to meet the needs of our students,” said McNeil. “It is the least we can do to show our deep gratitude for all that our staff has done to be here for our children throughout this difficult time.” McNeil noted that 100% of the employees who have registered in his district have received at least their first vaccine dose.

The efforts to protect district workers began in February, with those employees who were over age 65 or otherwise met the medical qualifications for vaccination.  Originally, the program started with eight districts, including Fair Haven, Asbury Park, Little Silver, Red Bank Borough, Red Bank Regional High School, Rumson, Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, and Shrewsbury.

However, at the request of Dr. Lester Richens, Monmouth’s interim executive county superintendent, and state Senator Declan O’Scanlon, the program was opened to all districts in the county on Friday, Feb. 26. McNeil has served as the point person for 42 Monmouth County school districts that have since joined the program as a result.

The only ones not to sign on, according to McNeil, are a group of districts, including Freehold Regional High School, Freehold Borough, Freehold Township, and Manalapan Englishtown schools, which had already arranged vaccinations for teachers and staff with CentraState Healthcare System.

“The Freehold Regional High School District worked collaboratively with the CentraState Medical Center in Freehold to provide approximately 540 high-risk staff with the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Dr. Charles Sampson, Freehold Regional’s superintendent. “The district was the first in the state to utilize such a partnership and had these individuals vaccinated by mid-February. The work was testament to the decades-long partnership that exists between Freehold Regional and CentraState.”

As a result of these partnerships, 100% of the Monmouth County school districts are now actively engaged in the prioritized vaccination of their staff members.

NJSBA Survey  Last week, the New Jersey School Boards Association sent out a survey to board members, superintendents and business administrators inquiring what strategies districts were using. The survey received more than 800 responses.

Several responses indicated that districts have tried to arrange vaccinations with local hospitals or pharmacies, with varying levels of success. Some have attempted to become vaccination sites themselves; NJSBA ran an article in the March 9 issue of School Board Notes documenting the difficulties with that strategy.

Below is a sampling of other strategies:

“Cedar Grove Public Schools have partnered with our local medical facility, Vanguard Medical, in arranging the opportunity to vaccinate all employees of the district.”  Anthony Grosso, superintendent, Cedar Grove.

“We have our nurse’s office on the phone all day registering our teachers for an appointment for vaccinations. The district has collaborated with Hackensack University Medical Center and they are assisting us with scheduling appointments for teachers.”  Barbara Longo, interim superintendent, Oradell School District.

“We are in talks with the local health department trying to arrange vaccines for our staff.Gary Lubisco, Manchester Regional School District.

“We allow personnel to take time away without using sick, personal, and/or vacation days to get vaccinated.”  Dr. Scott Taylor, superintendent, Highland Park School District

“We have actively worked with our local Shop Rite, which has cooperated with us to provide appointments for vaccines now that teachers are eligible. They work with our nurses to secure spots for our teachers. We are also working with the local health department in the same way.” Dr.  JoAnn Cardillo, superintendent, Passaic Valley Regional High School District.

“To date, we have all of our staff members in the district (265 of them) who are 65, smokers, or have underlying health conditions, vaccinated. We worked hand in hand with the Riverside Medical Group. This represents 55% of our staff. We already have all remaining staff members who fall in the teacher and school staff category scheduled for their vaccines between March 15 and March 20. We anticipate a final vaccination percentage of close to 90%.”  Dr. Christine Johnson, superintendent, Hoboken School District.

“The County Office of Education and the County Health Department established a relationship with a site with specific dates and times for teachers. The district adjusted our schedule to enable 33 staff members to receive their first shot. We have also been very flexible when teachers have received the opportunity to get the vaccine, even though there is a national substitute shortage.” Dr. Joseph Campisi, Berlin Borough School District.

We have partnered with Rowan University to provide vaccination appointments for our staff.Michael Hunter, superintendent, Mt. Ephraim School District.