Some school districts have acted swiftly to launch COVID-19 vaccine efforts for educators, though the eligibility announced last week by the governor has not appeared to hasten return plans in schools that have been fully remote for an entire year.

Jersey City and Paterson both announced programs to vaccinate teachers starting Monday, in efforts to return to in-person instruction for the first time since last March.

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Roughly 3,000 vaccines in Jersey City for the week of March 15 would go directly to teachers and staff from the city public school system, Mayor Steve Fulop told New Jersey 101.5.

That number was based on initial response to a form sent out to staff, Fulop said, adding that some teachers already have received first shots from other clinics. Vaccine doses will be administered at two city schools, as appointments are being coordinated to serve co-workers from the same locations at the same time period, to minimize school day interruption.

Trenton vaccinating teachers

Trenton Public Schools have seen about 500 vaccines delivered to educators so far through the Henry J. Austin Health Center (HJAHC), which will continue to reserve 100 doses a week for teachers’ vaccines until needs are met, Schools Superintendent Alfonso Llano said in response to New Jersey 101.5.

He also said a potential collaborative effort with the Mercer County Superintendent's Association was on hold.

“We had hoped that all Mercer County educators would have the opportunity to receive the vaccine this week. I learned this morning that the commitment to vaccinate all teachers isn't based on an increase in supply. So, for now, I am unsure when the remaining teachers will be vaccinated,” Llano said.

Vaccination efforts in Trenton schools have not moved up plans for district staff to return to school buildings as of April 19, ahead of a May 3 reopening for students who return to in-person, Llano said.

Paterson schools could reopen in May

In Paterson, more than 1,000 employees of the city's public schools who responded with interest were being contacted for vaccination appointments beginning on Monday at St. Joseph’s Health and on Sunday at Hackensack Meridian Health’s Mega Center site at the Meadowlands, according to Paterson Superintendent of Schools Eileen Shafer.

The district’s 29,000 students have been learning remotely since March 17, 2020.

Shafer then plans to make a recommendation at the Board of Education April 14 meeting, and board members would decide whether school buildings reopen on May 3.

Montclair drops lawsuit against teachers

There’s been some resolution in Montclair, where the township’s 11 public schools have remained on full remote instruction. The township filed a lawsuit in February against the teacher’s union,  over refusal for some to return to older buildings, citing HVAC concerns despite work being done to retrofit the systems.

On Wednesday, it was announced that the suit was withdrawn and a compromise reached to return to a hybrid schedule, starting no sooner than April 12, as reported by Montclair Local, citing schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds.

Also in Essex County, the path back to in-person classes remains unclear in the South Orange-Maplewood school district, which has continued fully remote since last March for its 7,286 students.

The South Orange-Maplewood Education Association has pushed back against plans to resume hybrid instruction on March 15, with a counter plan that would only provide in-person instruction to some elementary grades, according to South Orange-Maplewood school district officials. Mediation on a plan approaching the return to hybrid had broken off on Tuesday, according to a written update on the district's website.

Parents have stepped up their pressure on SOMEA and even on the governor on social media, to intervene and try to get kids back for some in-person learning, a full year since the pandemic arrived.

Montclair has been among a few communities with plans to hold local events for Saturday, calling it “One Year Out of School: NJ Rally for In-Person Learning.”

In Monmouth County, one district also has a local event planned for Saturday's rally, as Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District, with 3,827 students across 7 schools, has families anxious to expand beyond the combination of in-person, hybrid and remote instruction being offered.

Similar protests have already taken place since the new year in Montclair, South Orange and Maplewood, as well as Marlboro, Old Bridge, and Wayne.

Number of schools that have reopened

In some places that have seen school remain all-remote for an entire calendar year, family frustrations have hit new levels, especially as neighboring towns expand in-person instruction, with vaccine efforts underway and viral transmission on the decline.

As of Wednesday, the number of schools that reported being open for all in-person instruction was at 110, the same as on March 1.

The number of schools that reported being all-remote was at 125, down by 17 schools since March 1, as the number of schools that reported being on hybrid schedule or a combination of instruction was up by that same amount, to 577.

Numbers are reported out of 812 public-school districts/ charter schools, renaissance schools, and schools for students with disabilities.

However, those numbers are based on what is sent to the state, and can often fall short of the full picture of what a district is going through.

For instance, the numbers reported for March 10 mark the one-school district, Carlstadt-East Rutherford Regional, as hybrid, when the district has gone on record offering full, five-day in-person instruction since the fall.

Meanwhile, Marlboro Township district is marked as in-person as of March 10, while students have a maximum of four half-days in-person, with all students still remote on Wednesdays, more commonly referred to as a hybrid schedule.

Marlboro public schools announced on Tuesday night that the half day in-person instruction would expand to five days in April, with a plan to return to five full-days of in-person in early May.

Woodbridge schools, which have nearly 13,888 students, returned to hybrid at the start of March from all-remote. On Tuesday, the township district announced that after spring break, students would return to an expanded, rotating hybrid schedule, which would vary from school to school, based on the amount of students staying all-remote by choice.

There are no Somerset or Middlesex County public school districts reported as fully in-person as of March 10 — which a number of Bridgewater-Raritan parents are pushing to change.

A vocal group of families in the regional township district of 8,569 students has been lobbying for a change from the existing hybrid schedule to a complete return to "normal" full, five days in person. Noting respect for teachers, the group also supports vaccine priority for staff while additional pitching “a full virtual academy with designated virtual teachers for those families in need of such an option.”

Edison also switched from all-remote instruction to hybrid as of March for its 16,494 students, citing winter concerns over high case numbers and viral spread.

Further north in Passaic County, Wayne public schools also continue to grapple with the growing call for increased in-person instruction, while a significant part of the community opts to remain fully remote.

Wayne Township schools have remained on a hybrid instructional model while seeking a pathway forward to allow for more in-person instruction, which has been particularly challenging, according to school officials.

“We recognize the voices of those parents who would like to see a full return of all students as quickly as possible. However, the District must also be attentive to the 22% of our elementary students, 35% of middle school students, and 60% of high school students whose parents have opted to have their children attend school virtually,” Wayne Superintendent of Schools Mark Toback said in a March 5 update for school families, ahead of a new round of surveys being finished by Friday.

Toms River increases in-person classes

In Ocean County, Toms River Regional intermediate and high schools recently prepared for an increase of in-person learning, four days per week. Part of the expansion is based on room for social distancing amid a higher percentage of students still opting for all-virtual instruction, Interim Superintendent of Schools Thomas Gialanella said in a March 5 update.

Amid the push for more in-person instruction at schools already offering hybrid schedules, there is some concern about how spring break plans and unnecessary travel by families might impact districts that are working to expand in-person options.

If families decide to take out-of-state trips, the East Brunswick school district, which is still operating on a hybrid schedule, has issued a blunt reminder that a 10-day quarantine is still required under state directives, as added exposures could easily foil weeks of progress and continued precautions.

In Union County, Scotch Plains-Fanwood just this month returned to five half-days of in-person, or full-day remote instruction, in a staggered model from elementary to high school.

Scotch Plains-Fanwood also built in a buffer week, going to full remote instruction the week after Spring break, “Anticipating that people may gather and may travel for spring holidays,” Scotch Plains Schools Superintendent Joan Mast said in a written update.

The district will then return to offering five half-days of in-person instruction on April 12.

LOOK: Answers to 30 common COVID-19 vaccine questions

While much is still unknown about the coronavirus and the future, what is known is that the currently available vaccines have gone through all three trial phases and are safe and effective. It will be necessary for as many Americans as possible to be vaccinated in order to finally return to some level of pre-pandemic normalcy, and hopefully these 30 answers provided here will help readers get vaccinated as soon they are able.

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