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Op-Ed: Make Classrooms Safer by Prioritizing Vaccinations for Teachers

Op-Ed: Make Classrooms Safer by Prioritizing Vaccinations for TeachersEXPAND
Denver Families for Public Schools
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Have you thanked a teacher lately? There has been plenty of negativity around remote learning, but if you ask us, it’s another example of how teachers show up no matter the cost.

Many teachers went from never having taught a class virtually to doing it six hours a day and, at times, also teaching students in person. Educators connected with families more frequently and reimagined family engagement. They took existing lesson plans and turned them into engaging, thoughtful, virtual lessons, all while delivering endless empathy and kindness as students managed their new environments. Teachers used their personal time to drop off materials and do tech pickups, no questions asked. And, as always, they supported students social-emotionally with self-regulating and personal efficacy. Students quickly had to learn how to manage their own schedule, get online at the correct time, navigate to different zoom rooms, focus their attention, and be responsible for their materials and environment. While the whole world spiraled into crisis, educators innovated and iterated with a love for the profession that can’t be measured.

While remote learning isn’t what’s best in the long term for many students, it has, without a doubt, saved lives. Even without a worldwide pandemic, schools typically carry a high risk of contagion. In the midst of this pandemic, in a classroom with up to 32 students, we know there is a level of risk for both students and staff — and ultimately families and communities. We must also acknowledge the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on our communities of color, specifically our Black and Latino/Hispanic communities. Our communities, student, and staff continue to be exposed to COVID-19 at a higher rate, and as a whole.

It’s not hard to imagine the level of risk teachers face when you think about the hundreds of little things they do to support kids each day. It’s not as simple as wearing a mask or keeping your distance when you work in a school. Some students haven’t been apart from their families for ten months, and returning to school can be a hard change that requires the support of a hug, a pat on the back or simply the closeness of a trusted adult. Our youngest learners need their shoes tied, their milk opened and help navigating the building.

It’s also important to note that operating a school right now is a massive undertaking, given COVID safety procedures and restrictions. Classes have become “cohorts” that can’t cross paths in order to avoid any possible cross-contamination. That means elective teachers are limited, teachers have less planning time, and they rarely get mask breaks. Manipulatives and materials must be thoughtfully considered to reduce any potential transmission risk. Teachers who typically are in close proximity to students to provide support and feedback must maintain their distance.

Teachers aren’t being put back into the old classroom routines they once knew, but they’re still being asked to do the same job with more restrictions and risk.

Want to know the best way to thank a teacher right now? Educators need to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations immediately. An MRNA shot in the arm would be the best gift to give all educators right now. If we can’t prioritize teacher vaccinations, families will continue to face extreme inconsistency, including unpredictable two-week quarantines when there is a COVID case within a school cohort, ongoing school staffing challenges, and further disruptions to student learning and progress. In fact, families of color are twice as likely as their white counterparts to keep their kids in remote learning (which also isn’t a surprise, considering we don’t have normal school-bus operations to provide equitable transportation across the city).

In the chaos of this year, it’s critical that we get kids back learning in their school buildings, but not at the risk of losing lives, long-term health consequences, or costly hospitalizations. We know the state is doing everything it can to vaccinate with limited resources, and for that we are grateful. And still we must raise our voices to ensure they don’t get drowned out. This is why we sent a letter to Governor Jared Polis to urge the state to make COVID-19 vaccine available to teachers and school staff after frontline medical workers and vulnerable seniors, and as soon as possible. You can add your support here.

Let’s all get vaccinated as soon as possible and get back to learning in the schools we love.

Teachers with Denver Families for Public Schools:

Leah Andrews-Willis
10th Grade AP World and Global History, Department Chair

Catherine Dance
9th Grade Biology Teacher, Science Department Chair, and 9th Grade Level Lead

Ross Gothelf
Civics & Economics (Life 101)

Laura Haller
Special Education Teacher

Jamita Horton
3rd Grade

Gabrielle Korey
11th Grade

Brock Schardin
9th Grade

Denver Families for Public Schools are parents, teachers, school leaders and alumni — organized as a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(4) — coming together to use their voices to increase civic engagement so that together they can contribute to educational equity, help shape the education policy that impacts students, and create the best school district for all of us. Find out more here.

Westword frequently publishes op-eds and essays on matters of interest to the Denver community on westword.com on the weekend. Have one you'd like to submit? Send it to editorial@westword.com, where you can also comment on this piece.

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