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Society benefits by vaccinating teachers

March 5th, 2021 by dk

Only Oregon and Idaho have prioritized teachers for COVID-19 vaccinations. This should be a point of pride. Instead, Republican lawmakers used it as a pretense to boycott their work in Salem and angry letters to the editor have filled this page.

Courtney Campbell, a professor of religion and culture at Oregon State University, told The Oregonian that he can’t formulate “an ethically justified defense for prioritizing daycare, preschool and K-12 employees.” (I’m raising my hand, Professor.) Let me try!

The Oregon Health Authority counts 152,000 eligible teachers, K-12 support staff, early learning and childcare personnel who qualify for the vaccine. Prioritizing this small percentage of Oregon’s 4.2 million people will allow schools and daycare centers to reopen.

Anyone who believes that students can skip one whole year of schooling without risking lifelong harm is uninformed or unrealistic. Our “remote learning” regimen has been a dangerously inadequate substitute for the classroom experience.

Younger teachers and children without complicating conditions may not be at grave risk without the vaccine. Giving educators vaccine priority won’t save lives. It will do something bigger than that. It will preserve society. It will also curb deleterious effects students could otherwise suffer for the rest of their lives.

The Center for Disease Control has issued a ruling that teachers should be able to safely return to the classroom without first getting vaccinated, so long as the schools have proper ventilation, rigorous cleaning protocols and social distancing. When was the last time any of those CDC researchers visited a grade school classroom?

Yes, it is theoretically possible for a teacher avoid close contact with his or her students, but that would only replicate the worst parts of “remote learning.” It looks possible on paper, but not in the real world.

School does so much more than instruct our children. They need the classroom experience to gain important social skills. Teachers convey the material to be learned, but they also model a confidence that comes with mastery. Fearful teachers make hesitant learners.

Also consider social equity. The students losing the most ground are generally those with the smallest margin for error for future success. Stable families with large homes and present parents have been inconvenienced, but those children are more likely to maintain some academic momentum.

Families in crowded conditions without food security and Internet access have been less likely to keep their children connected to their teachers and academic goals. Once children feel they are falling behind their peers in school, the temptation to give up grows monstrously.

Get students back into their classrooms, where hunger and emotional fragilities can be addressed. Parents — especially mothers — will be more productive and less stressed. Neighborhoods will once again be woken by children being trundled off to school. The rhythm of life will resume.

The cost of prioritizing education staff is being borne by senior citizens. Big-box retail greeters notwithstanding, most seniors can minimize their exposure risk until they can be vaccinated. Every child that regains ground from the school year they’ve lost will benefit society for decades to come.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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