As a mom, teacher, and grandma, first lady Dr. Jill Biden understands the concerns of whether or not to send children back to school amid the Coronavirus pandemic. She took the time to show as much when she visited with kids and teachers at elementary schools in Connecticut and Pennsylvania on Wednesday.
We know in-person learning is best for most kids, but is it more important than their health or that of their teachers? The long-term educational, emotional, social, and economic consequences of the pandemic will not be known for years, and hindsight will reveal where we made the right or wrong trade-offs. As parents, trying to figure out what is best for our kids, now and in the future, can be paralyzing. What we parents all wish most is that we could just wave a magic wand and have it be safe for their lives to go back to normal. Teachers wish this, too, but of course, it’s far more complicated.
“Teachers want to be back. We want to be back,” Biden said as she visited students at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Meriden, Conn., on Wednesday with Dr. Miguel Cardona, the new education secretary. “Last week, I said to my students, ‘Hey guys, how you doing?’ And they said, ‘Dr. B, we’re doing OK, but we can’t wait to be back to the classroom.’ And I think that’s how we all feel. But we just know that we have to get back safely.”
The first lady and her husband are on the same page, as President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that it is “imperative that we get our kids back into the classroom safely and as soon as possible” during an announcement at the White House. Safely, ideally, refers to making sure all teachers and school staff are vaccinated against COVID-19, and that schools have the funds to reopen with the necessary safety protocols to prevent the spread of the pandemic among kids, for whom the vaccine is not yet approved by the FDA, and their families. (Children, while much less susceptible to symptomatic illness, can still readily carry the virus. Studies suggest that children under 10 transmit the virus about half as efficiently as adults do, but older children may be much like adults.)
President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, currently being debated in the Senate, would provide $130 billion to support schools to reduce class sizes and modify spaces so students and teachers can socially distance; improve ventilation; hire more janitors and implement mitigation measures; provide personal protective equipment; and more.
In addition to those funds, President Biden is now making vaccinating teachers a national priority. “To help make this happen, starting next week and for a month — the month of March, we will be using our federal pharmacy program to prioritize the vaccination of pre-K-through-12 educators and staff and child-care workers,” President Biden said on Tuesday. “Throughout March, they will be able to sign up for an appointment at a pharmacy near them.”
While this was welcome news for many, critics expressed concern that the government should be more focused on distributing the vaccine more equitably to minority communities, who are under-vaccinated compared to white Americans.
“The program is beyond teachers and includes bus drivers, janitorial workers, child care workers — a work force that is broadly incredibly diverse,” said Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, defending the program. “Second, getting kids back to school is one of the most equitable steps we can take because what we’ve seen statistically is that Black and Latino students are disproportionately experiencing learning loss.”
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that vaccinating teachers is not mandatory for schools to reopen safely, last month the agency released a study that concluded that “educators might play a central role in in-school transmission” and that “school mitigation measures and COVID-19 vaccination of educators is a critical component of preventing in-school transmission.”
Teachers and their unions — including the National Education Association, of which Dr. Biden is a member — have advocated for educator priority in vaccine distribution to keep students, educators, and families safe. To their point, epidemiological models have shown that vaccinating teachers could greatly reduce infections in schools.
“It should be an absolute priority,” said Carl Bergstrom, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Washington in Seattle, in an article in the New York Times.
Vaccinations are sort of like the magic wand we parents wish we could wave to get our kids’ lives back to normal. The fact is, the more adults who get vaccinated, the sooner, the better. If you qualify for a vaccine, make your appointment and get your doses as soon as possible, so that magic wand can reveal its power.
Before you go, check out our gallery on Cute & Stylish Kids Face Masks.