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COVID vaccination not required to go back to school, CDC director says. Some MCPS teachers disagree

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says more studies are showing there are ways to safely reopen schools without the vaccine.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Some teachers were surprised to hear the CDC Director say vaccinations don't have to be a requirement for going back to school in a briefing Wednesday.

“Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools," Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

Coordinator of the President's COVID-19 task force, Jeff Zients, qualified that statement -- reiterating President Biden's commitment to reopening schools with proper mitigation techniques, like better access to testing, smaller class sizes, necessary ventilation, and proper sanitization -- money of which he said is provided for in the American Rescue Plan.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki later said the CDC is still working on its official guidelines for reopening schools, which has yet to be released.

When Montgomery County Public Schools physical education teacher Susan Loftus heard the remark, she said, "Woof. I have to take a deep breath and remind myself to breathe. Teachers want to be back with their kids. And we want it in the worst way. But we want to be safe."

Loftus said MCPS staff have been working remotely for almost a year now. She hopes they can hold out until staff members have at least one vaccine dose in their bodies.

MCPS special education teacher, Alexandria Shivers, said social distancing and proper mask-wearing would be very difficult with her students.

“On a regular day, I’ve been sneezed on in the face, so PPE I think will only take us so far without that added protection of the vaccines," Shivers said.

RELATED: With Marylanders still frustrated by vaccination appointments, lawmakers are pushing for new solutions

MCPS parent Sunil Dasgupta, who has students in elementary, middle, and high school, said he wants a credible mitigation plan in place to make teachers feel comfortable returning to the classroom.

“If they say no, open schools before teachers are vaccinated, I think their plan would lose credibility as a consequence of that decision," Dasgupta said. "In order for them now to retain credibility, they need to go through this. We are right there. Why would you not do it? Then you have to answer the question okay so are you really prioritizing education or are you not?”

A spokesperson for Montgomery County Public Schools sent WUSA9 the following statement: "Our planning for the return of students was underway long before vaccinations became available. While they certainly are a positive factor, we continue to move forward with our efforts to start to bring back small groups of students as early as the end of this month/beginning of [March]."

Over the weekend, Prince George's County Public Schools CEO Dr. Monica Goldson said she monitors COVID metrics daily and will re-evaluate the reopening plan in mid-February.

President of the Prince George's County Education Association, Theresa Dudley, said she thinks all teachers should have the option to receive the vaccine before returning to the classroom. Saturday, after getting her first vaccine dose, she expressed support for Dr. Goldson's approach to reopening so far.

When it comes to returning to the classroom, both Loftus and Shivers emphasized how much they want to be back with their kids, but they want to keep everybody safe.

“Yes learning loss is important, but loss of quality health is the utmost," Loftus said.

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