Yesterday Governor Newsom announced that California would be the first state in the nation to require vaccinations or weekly testing for teachers and all school staff that come in contact with students. While the vast majority of educators are already vaccinated (it’s estimated the number is 90% across the country), now custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and office staff will also have the same requirement.
Yesterday was also the first day of school for many children, including those who attend my neighborhood elementary school, just one short block from my home. It filled my heart to see the students return to campus with their backpacks and their masks, and to hear their happy voices as they greeted each other after so many months apart.
Normally, the first day of school is a day that is filled with excitement, anticipation, and other positive feelings. Children are excited to see their friends after a long summer, parents are relieved to get back to a regular routine, and everyone is anticipating a fun and safe school year. And I certainly got that vibe yesterday.
But the re-opening of school this year sure feels different.
For the past 18 months, we have looked forward to schools being reopened. We knew that our kids needed a routine and socialization and a more normal schedule. We knew that our kids needed less screen time and more in-person contact. We knew that our kids learn better in person, and we were more than ready to hand the role of teacher back to the professionals. So it’s awesome that schools are reopening, and it’s thrilling to see our kids get back to (a new) normal. It’s what we’ve waited for, and it’s what children of all ages need.
But there are a lot of questions this year that we haven’t had to consider before.
What about masks? (Will my child keep theirs on? Will other children? Will adults?)
What about vaccinations? (Are the adults at our school vaccinated? Will parents be able to volunteer in my child’s classroom, and if they can, will they be vaccinated? When will my young child be able to get vaccinated?)
What about the now raging Delta variant? (If it continues to spread, will schools close down again? And if they do, how will my family manage that?)
These are all valid concerns and real questions. Even though I don’t have any children still in school, I too worry that not enough people are vaccinated, that variants are spreading, and that the future still feels uncertain. I worry that schools might face a Covid outbreak, and might need to close down again. I worry about the parents who again might lose their jobs if that happens. And I worry that our kids, too young to be vaccinated, will be put in danger by the very adults whose job is it is to keep them safe.
Because I care about our children so much and because I believe in science, I fully support a mandate for all school personnel to be vaccinated or to be tested frequently, with the cost being covered by the individual, not by the school. I fully support a mask mandate for every person on the school campus, whether they are vaccinated or not. And I fully support a vaccine passport which would be required to enter a gym, restaurant, movie theater, airport, or any other indoor recreational location. (You don’t want to get vaccinated? Okay, but then you can’t go to the gym, restaurant, or movie theater, and you can’t fly. Totally your choice.)
Until every person who needs a vaccine is able to get one, the rest of us must be willing to work together to put a safety around our kids, the elderly, and the immunocompromised.
Let’s all appreciate that schools are open and that our kids can return to their friends and teachers.
And then let’s all get vaccinated so we can keep them there.