ELKTON — Almost 800 Cecil County Public Schools (CCPS) staff received first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Union Hospital last week, with more vaccinations for teachers to come in the following days.

Eight school nurses were on hand Friday to help administer the doses alongside Union Hospital staff, according to district Coordinator of Health Services Stephanie Norman. She said it feels like a turning point in returning the district to normal operations.

“I feel like this is one step helping us get back to semi-normal life, and pretty much all of our nurses feel the same way,” she said. “Our goal is to get our students back in school.”

Staff enter into a large white tent in a parking lot outside the hospital, where several stations are separated by curtains. Receiving the shot takes just seconds, and then the recipients make their way over to a second tent to wait for about fifteen minutes to monitor for any unexpected symptoms. While they wait, they schedule an appointment to receive the second dose.

Anne Highfield, a fourth grade teacher at Cecilton Elementary, said she was feeling anxious in the moments before getting the vaccine. She had been teaching earlier that morning, and said she talked with her students about getting the vaccine and what it meant.

“I want them to know that I’m doing something to make them safe,” she said. “I want their families to know that I’m doing something to make school safer.”

For Highfield, the district’s hybrid reopening in the fall offered a taste of returning to normal. She said she felt good about it, and hopes that now the district can look to bringing more students back for face-to-face instruction.

“This is a solid measure,” she said. “I believe in science, I trust the medical field and I just feel like the more people we have vaccinated the better.”

District leadership also hopes that getting staff vaccinated will make it possible to bring more students back.

Associate Superintendent for Administrative Services Robert Buckley explained that the district began by offering the vaccine to those staff who are already back in buildings with those students who have already returned — five percent of those most in need of in-person instruction, including many with learning disabilities or other learning challenges.

After the round of vaccinations on Friday, almost all staff who are already back in buildings have received doses, Buckley said. He added that out of over 2,000 total staff, he hopes the rest will receive vaccines soon. In addition to nearly 800 last week, the district is planning for at least one more round this week.

“We are in a very fortunate situation to have the partnership that we have with the health department, as well as Union Hospital,” Buckley said. “It’s very rewarding right now to see all the efforts that everybody has been putting into this.”

Buckley received his own first dose of the vaccine Friday morning, and said he hardly felt a thing — maybe just a slight soreness.

CCPS Superintendent Jeff Lawson was on hand Friday to ensure things were proceeding smoothly. While the district has yet to announce the next phase of reopening beyond the initial five percent, Lawson committed to reassessing on a weekly basis in collaboration with his leadership team and the county Health Department to determine when it would be safe for more students to return.

Lawson was unsure when he himself would receive the vaccine.

“The boss eats last,” he said. “I have to make sure my staff who are face to face with students are supported before me.”

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