Teachers’ union president addresses ‘vaccine mandate’ for school employees

Bayonne Education Association President Gene Woods says Murphy's order is not an overreach

Gov. Phil Murphy recently signed an executive order mandating that all preschool to Grade 12 school personnel either be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, or be tested regularly once or twice a week.

The requirement aims to strengthen protections against the spread of the virus and the highly-transmissible Delta variant to children, many of whom are under 12 years old and not yet eligible for vaccinations.

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Across the state, faculty and other staff reacted to the order.

“Governor Murphy gets it,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. “Parents and educators need the safety protocols and a plan in place to keep everyone safe and protected as we return to in-person learning. We know how important it is to be in school and stay in school, even amid the Delta surge—and vaccines, testing, ventilation, handwashing and masking are the tools to get us there.”

Many members vaccinated 

In an interview with the Bayonne Community News, President of the Bayonne Education Association Gene Woods said that the governor’s executive order wasn’t really a ‘vaccine mandate.’

“It’s not a mandate because people who have medical concerns or other issues, they don’t have to get it,” Woods said. “But they do have to get tested at least once or twice a week.”

Woods noted that, even as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fully authorizes the use of the Pfizer vaccine, it’s still not mandatory.

While many teachers were vaccinated ahead of the return to classrooms from virtual instruction last May, Woods said that staff was not polled on vaccinations to give them privacy. He did confirm that he had been vaccinated and that he knows many members who are.

Not an overreach

Some critics of the executive order have called the move another overreach by Murphy.

“I don’t think it’s an overreach,” Woods said. “I think it’s being done to help protect as many people as possible. We have kids, young kids, and people who might be immuno-compromised in schools, so it’s about protecting the population in general so that we can beat COVID and go back to some resemblance of normalcy for everyone.”

Woods said that there have been a few questions from BEA members, but no uproar.

“There hasn’t been much of a reaction,” Woods said. “I’m getting questions about different things, about testing and how that’s going, but nothing over the top.”

Back to school soon

Most members are preparing to head back to the classroom soon as the school year starts with in-person, full-time instruction five days a week. Woods said that other COVID-19 protocols are in place, and the district will continue to try to adapt to the virus.

“A lot of things are in place, and there’s always room to add things here and there,” Woods said of the virus mitigation measures.

Woods continued: “Everybody wants a safe return for students so that no one either dies from getting COVID or ends up severely impacted in their future by having to be on a ventilator or having long COVID that some people are dealing with. I’m hoping we can get to where we can kind of fix this and move past it so that everybody can be safe again.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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