Last month, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown propelled schoolteachers and staff to the front of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine line. Educators started receiving COVID shots on Jan. 25; Oregonians 80 years and older must wait until Feb. 7.
Brown chose to vaccinate teachers before seniors—a decision at odds with the priorities of 45 other states—because she wants Oregon students back in classrooms ASAP this spring.
It was a gamble: Brown bet that the bad publicity she’d receive for delaying vaccines for seniors would be countered by the boost to children languishing at home.
But the awarding of vaccines to teachers is no guarantee they’ll resume in-person instruction at Portland Public Schools anytime soon. Instead, it’s the start of a protracted fight.
Many teachers remain reluctant to return to the classroom. They fear entering poorly ventilated buildings and bringing the virus home to their loved ones. They believe school reopening will spread disease from kids to parents and grandparents. And they argue that wealthy, white students will more easily return to school buildings—creating separate and unequal education.
Brown’s decision to push teachers to the front of the line was wrong. Seniors undeniably should have been first. That she’s willing to sacrifice them on the alter of in-person education is all the evidence I need to say that our values are not aligned.
That said, if a teacher is vaccinated, he really should get back to teaching in person. There is no personal reason not to, and a refusal to do so will likely meet with public disapprobation (as it should).
Students are another story. They’re less likely to suffer the ill effects of “standard” Covid but, depending on what data you look at, are only slightly less likely to transmit it. The new variants like B117 significantly increase the transmission rate among all ages. How this can make for a safe school reopening, especially amongst the older middle school and high school populations, I do not yet know or understand.
What I do know is that I don’t trust Brown or the Oregon Health Authority to make that decision. They’ve given no evidence that kids will be safe, especially in light of the new variants, and until they do my kids will remain at home.