A robust pandemic-era vaccination program for educators is the solution — not obfuscation and denial
Before making up your mind about whether teachers should be vaccinated prior to returning to the classroom, please take some time to consider that relying on inadequate science is no better than relying on religion or magic to make critical policy decisions. Common-sense caution always trumps inadequate science in the real world of deadly viruses.
Also, for those now suffering under the burden of taking care of “your” children while having to work from home, I get the agony of that. My wife — a teacher — and I raised four children. Despite the struggle, it’s still not worth risking human life — in this case, the lives of your kids’ teachers — to relieve you of that burden or to alleviate your concerns over the adequacy of online learning. They are your children, not the state’s or the school system’s children, right? At the end of the day, it’s your responsibility to endure and overcome that adversity without putting other people at risk. You should not demand that teachers be required to risk their health or lives for your kids — especially when the solution is as simple as a robust vaccination program for teachers.
Here in Washington state, and elsewhere, such as Wisconsin, where I have family members who are teachers; in Illinois, where a friend is an organizer for a teachers union; and elsewhere around the country, educators are being told they must return to the classroom prior to being vaccinated. And that demand, in many cases, is being made without adequate protections in place and with no clear plan to get teachers vaccinated anytime soon. This is wrong, and we should know that. I’m saying something about it.
And here’s why: As part of the Trump administration legacy, there has been inadequate tracking of outbreaks in schools nationwide and within states, which means there is inadequate science/data demonstrating that classrooms are safe for teachers. The Biden administration appears to be barreling forward with a plan, based on a campaign promise, to reopen schools within 100 days of the start of his term of office.
Yet, the Biden administration’s health care and press experts continue to dance and obfuscate around the question of whether teachers must return to the classroom without a guarantee of vaccination. The Biden administration is not intervening as states are already pushing teachers back into classrooms and, so far, has only said the federal Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) is working on guidance. That’s unacceptable.
In our democracy, experts don’t approve policy, elected officials do. Science, too, is a process, and it’s legitimate to discuss whether the science on a particular subject, like COVID workplace safety, is adequate or far enough along to draw conclusions about school reopenings — especially when the science around vaccines is adequate.
Here in Washington, the governor, a Democrat, just sent a letter to the Washington Education Association (WEA) telling teachers to essentially pound sand, that the science shows it’s safe to return to the classroom, and he cites a study in Europe — evidence of the paucity of science and data-tracking for U.S. schools. He then goes on to cite a few U.S. studies and CDC data, and some Washington state data — and boasts about how few outbreaks and cases have been reported in schools.
Gov. Jay Inslee, D-Washington, boldly asserts in the letter to the WEA:
What we know now is that if done correctly, if done with full consideration of safe protocols, in-person learning can be done in a way the limits the spread of infection, and in a way that improves student wellbeing and learning. We know this because we have new information based on experience, data, and science.
But, here’s the rub. Inslee isn’t telling us the whole, unvarnished truth about the science behind sending teachers back into the classroom in the midst of a worsening pandemic.
A recent Seattle Times article offers evidence of that reality:
Washington state shares little data about public schools and whether coronavirus is spreading, or not
… Nearly every day, the state Department of Health (DOH) reports how many new cases have been detected by county, how many deaths, how many hospitalizations. Yet we don’t know consistently where or when school outbreaks occur. State officials haven’t released this information and couldn’t quickly provide it at The Seattle Times’ request.
We also don’t know the total number of coronavirus cases among staff and students that are tied specifically to exposure in schools, or how well schools are implementing mitigation strategies to protect against outbreaks when they reopen.
… “Schools are opening and yet we don’t seem to have any coordinated way to collect and share information about what’s working, what’s not working, how risky are schools,” [Brown University economist Emily] Oster said.
… Neither the federal Department of Education nor a majority of states, including Washington, are publicly logging coronavirus-related information, aside from a handful that are beginning to tackle this challenge.
So, if only a few teachers get COVID-19 and are cursed with chronic long-haul symptoms, or hospitalized or even die, no big deal, right?
And it’s also not the full story, as the Seattle Times article illustrates. Forcing teachers to return to the classroom absent a robust vaccination program for them is just bad policy. We have the means to both vaccinate teachers and get kids back into schools.
We need to ensure caution trumps inadequate science in pursing the goal of reopening schools. And we need to ensure that short-term political promises and objectives are not used as a crutch to drive bad policy. Overly fearful or stressed-out teachers — what’s more sick or dead teachers — are not at the top of their game as educators. Parents should support vaccinations for teachers vocally, because it will result in the best education outcomes for their kids long-term.
That’s the reality of it based on the unvarnished facts.
If you agree, it’s time to start making your views known publicly, before millions of teachers nationwide are asked to put their health and lives at risk for a bad idea.