Some teachers don’t want to return to the classroom until they’ve been vaccinated — setting up potential clashes with state and local governments pushing to reopen schools.
Why it matters: Extended virtual learning is taking a toll on kids, and the Biden administration is pushing to get them back in the classroom quickly. But that will only be feasible if teachers are on board.
Where it stands: Although the rise of new, more contagious variants has scrambled the calculus on school reopening, for now the expert consensus is that vaccinations aren’t essential to safely reopening schools.
- A pair of studies from the CDC this week reiterated the agency’s stance that schools can operate safely with the proper precautions, along with other mitigation measures in the broader community.
- Most states haven’t put teachers at the front of the line for vaccines. Only 18 have included teachers in the early priority groups that can get vaccinated now, and in all but four of those states, teachers are competing for shots with other higher-risk populations, including the elderly.
Yes, but: Teachers in some large school districts don’t want to return to the classroom without being vaccinated — which could mean several more months of virtual classes.
- The Chicago teachers union has asked to delay reopening until teachers receive at least the first dose of the vaccine, but the city’s public health commissioner has said it could take months for teachers to be vaccinated, the Chicago Tribune reports.
- “If you are required to work with students in person — which thousands of educators have been doing for months now — you should be vaccinated as soon as possible,” Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said in statement after teachers were bumped behind the elderly in the state’s priority line, per Boston.com.
What they’re saying: “The issue is that we should be aligning vaccination with school opening. That doesn’t mean every single teacher has to be vaccinated before you open one school, it means there has to be that alignment,” Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, told ABC News.
- Teachers should be eligible for vaccination by “late January,” she wrote in a USA Today op-ed over the weekend.
The other side: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has said school staff will be prioritized for vaccination, with the goal of having students return to classrooms by March 1.
- But prioritizing teachers can be controversial. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has been criticized for the decision to vaccinate teachers ahead of the elderly, high-risk essential workers and other vulnerable communities.
- In a rural county in Georgia and at a private school in Philadelphia, teacher vaccine clinics were shut down by their state health departments, which said that educators were not yet eligible.
The bottom line: “It’s challenging to make those decisions about how to prioritize different populations, all of whom are at significant risk,” the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Jennifer Tolbert said.