Want the Vaccine? Open the Schools


I don’t think it’s unreasonable for teachers to want to receive a COVID-19 vaccine before returning to fully teach in person, but it is unconscionable for teachers to both be prioritized to receive a vaccine and refuse to return. As of January 25th, twenty-three states have made it possible for all teachers to be vaccinated. This is good policy, but only if it also means schools reopen or at least offer an in-person option for students and families. 

Eligibility for teachers to receive the coveted vaccine varies from state to state. Where I live, in Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) announced that all teachers could get vaccinated starting mid January. In the same week, she announced that all schools need to have an in person option by March 1st. In states like Ohio, however, Governor Mike DeWine (R) asked superintendents to sign paperwork agreeing to go back in person or hybrid as a condition of teachers getting the vaccine. This predictably prompted outrage from Ohio teacher’s unions who accused DeWine of using the “life-saving vaccine as a bargaining chip, holding this precious commodity hostage.” 

In Fairfax County, Virginia, teachers unions are going a step further. Not only do they not want to return fully in person once they have been vaccinated, they do not want to fully return if the children have not been vaccinated either. In conversations with my own colleagues, some do not want to return until children are vaccinated either, something that could take years as children under the age of 16 are too young to receive the shot.

This simply does not follow the available science. A report from the CDC found “scant spread of coronavirus” in schools with precautions in place. As a teacher myself, I completely understand my co-workers wanting a safe environment to do their jobs. It seems, however, that no matter how many steps schools take to make it safer, it will never be enough. We cannot continue to hold our students and families hostage when there are reasonable mitigation strategies we can take to keep staff and students safe.

If simple strategies such as requiring face coverings and social distancing where possible are in place, there is no reason we can’t expect a safe work environment, especially if we have been vaccinated. In the end, if teachers refuse to do the job that makes them eligible, they should not get top vaccine priority.

Megan Eme
Megan Eme is a middle school social studies teacher at a public charter school in Detroit, Michigan. She is also an 2020 Encore Fellow with Teach for America- Detroit.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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