Answer: It starts with teachers and staff. You can’t have kids in the classroom without them. They, rightfully, appear to be one of the highest priorities to receive the vaccine. It also seems logical that teachers and staff who are not willing to return to the classroom right now should not receive priority for the vaccine.
Currently California is not vaccinating people quickly enough. There is a very large gap in the number of doses on hand and how many people have actually received it. It has to be the top priority of Governor Newsom and every elected state official to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible. It is important to prioritize who receives the vaccine first, but it is incredibly irresponsible to be overly prescriptive to the point that precious vials of the vaccine are sitting unused. Contact your Assembly member, your State Senator and the Governor to encourage the speedy distribution of the vaccine. That will be the biggest accelerator of reopening schools and businesses.
In order to get teachers and staff back in the classroom, you have to have agreements with the unions that represent them. For some people, “union” has become a dirty word and an easy villain. Certainly there were times as an elected official where it was cumbersome to reach an agreement with unions, but I happen to think that we often overlook the huge positive impact that unions have had in our society (safe working conditions, employee protections, fair wages, etc.) Regardless of how you might personally feel about unions, the reality is that they will determine when their members return to the classroom.
There has been an ongoing teacher shortage in California and the situation has only gotten worse in recent months. California’s chronic underfunding of public education, concerns about health, the stress of the job, the disparagement from members of the community- these have all contributed to the problem. It is easy for keyboard warriors to safely sit behind a keyboard and type that all these lazy teachers deserve to be fired, but do they actually have a rational solution or alternative?
Even in Districts that went back in the fall, there are staffing issues. Poway Unified just announced they were pushing back the date of their broader reopening because they have 70 positive test cases in the first week of January. They cannot find enough substitutes and replacements to fill the gap.
More and more data show that reopening schools, with stringent safety requirements, can be done without significant outbreaks. That does not mean it is risk-free. That does not mean it is easy. It will have to be a collective effort in order to make it work.
A portion of the people who are calling the loudest for schools to be reopened immediately are also the ones who seem to take Covid the least seriously. Ranting that this is all a hoax, you haven’t changed your lifestyle a bit and you never wear a mask doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that you are the type of parent who will be looking out for the safety of the teachers, staff and students. Don’t believe these people exist? Feel free to read through the comment sections of certain local blogs.
I think a lot of us are balancing our desire for getting kids back in the classroom with the knowledge that we are still in a pandemic that has reached its deadliest stage. There are a lot of different perspectives and it is worth listening to reasonable discussions. Respectfully communicating your opinions to decision makers on a local and state level can go a long way- use your voice.
Stay safe. Be kind. Wear a mask.