Vaccines mean Monroe returning to five days in-school after April break

MONROE — Students will be back in class five days a week after April break now that more than 75 percent of school staffers — including café workers and bus drivers - are expected to receive the COVID vaccine.

The district hosted a COVID-19 vaccine clinic for school staff on Wednesday at Masuk High School. The second dose will be administered on April 1.

“I am so excited,” special education teacher Teresa Gucwa Heines said after receiving her first dose on Wednesday. “I’m looking forward to number two.”

Heines’ family has been hit hard by the virus: she and five of her family members got COVID-19. One of her son-in-law's friends died from it.

“Four of our children work in health organizations,” she said. “It has hit home way too close. I have not seen my son for a year and a half, one daughter since Mothers' Day 2020. It's been rough.

“Personally, I have many allergies so I will be observed for a half hour and have my Epipen on hand. That is the only reason I was nervous — but other than that, I am relieved we are finally getting it,” Heines added.

She teaches preschool children with special needs in the classroom, in addition to regular education preschool children, she said.

“While it has been tough, they have been great, as have their parents,” Heines said. “Professionally, I cannot wait until the day our students can play and work with each other without having to wash their hands prior to and after, be reminded each other may have germs and focus on their learning and socializing.”

She said all the children have handled the situation well over the past year.

"It was tough, but most days they just seemed to have rolled with the punches and thankfully were not aware of our nerves and apprehension,” Heines said.

Anne Spoerndle, a world language teacher at Masuk High, admitted she was nervous at first, but "today, I’m excited and relieved. I’m looking forward to getting back to some sense of normalcy.”

Spoerndle voiced her excitement over not only seeing her family again once she has received the second dose on April 1 but also welcoming more students back into the classroom.

"I miss the ‘noise’ associated with a language classroom,” she said.

“When I found out that the district was setting up a clinic for teachers, faculty and staff, I was thrilled,” she said. “Since we have returned to school, I have felt safe with all the protocols in place. However with teachers getting vaccinated, it will only make more people feel comfortable. I hope that more students will return to in-person learning because I miss them.”

Schools Superintendent Joseph Kobza said administering the second dose on April 1 will “allow us to safely return to five days of instruction following the April vacation.”

Monroe’s spring vacation is April 12 to April 16.

Kobza, at the Board of Education meeting on Monday, said the district would keep Wednesdays reserved as half days “while we still have a good number of students who are continuing with distance learning.”

Kobza praised the efforts of the Monroe Health Department and town Emergency Operations Team for making the clinic a reality.

"We have asked a tremendous amount from teachers and our entire school staff this year,” Kobza said. “This is the least we could do to show them the appreciation that they deserve.”

Board of Education Chair Donna Lane echoed Kobza’s sentiments, saying “many hours of preparation were spent getting Masuk ready and obtaining the necessary amount of vaccines. This was a total team effort and enough cannot be said about the dedication of this team.

“Our entire staff have been patiently waiting for their turn in getting the first dose of the vaccine,” Lane said. “These past 12 months have been unparalleled. Our teachers and staff have faced rapid changes to the teaching model which we know has been exhausting and stressful.

“Our hope is that receiving the first dose of the vaccine will begin to alleviate the anxiety the staff and parents/students have felt this past year,” Lane said.