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Time for a "National Staff Meeting For Educators"

IT’S TIME FOR A “NATIONAL STAFF MEETING FOR EDUCATORS”
by
Chuck Cascio

(Note: I taught secondary school for 27 years in Fairfax County, VA, the nation’s 10th largest school district.--Chuck Cascio)

      President Joseph Biden has correctly called the fact that millions of school children are still unable to attend school in person due to the novel coronavirus a "national emergency." He and his staff are outlining ways to make the return happen as soon--and as safely--as possible. The need for vaccination of all school personnel--teachers, administrators, and support staff--should be at the very top of the list. That is why I think something that might be labeled the "National Staff Meeting for Educators" should be instituted immediately.

     The National Staff Meeting for Educators would require that all in-school personnel report to a school or schools that would be identified as vaccination centers over the course of approximately 10 days. As staff members are vaccinated, they would then be required to return to school (except in cases where mitigating health issues might compromise the vaccine's effectiveness). Since studies indicate that even the first dose of vaccine can provide up to 80% protection against the coronavirus, if other precautions such as mask wearing, social distancing, thorough cleaning of lavatories, cafeterias, and classrooms throughout the school day and other precautions are mandated in schools, then it makes sense to phase back in-class instruction.  The National Staff Meeting for Educators would then be repeated four weeks later so school personnel could receive their second dose.

      What the dreadful coronavirus has "revealed" to many parents and politicians is that teachers are actually "essential workers."  Comments in editorials, opinion pieces, and general conversation use that term daily in reference to teachers, but most often in the context of demanding that they return to in-school classes. So if there can be a slight bit of good news in the context of coronavirus life, it is that the stereotypical image of teaching is disappearing: Teachers do not simply just roll into their classrooms each day, prop their feet up on their desks, tell a roomful of attentive and obedient kids what to do, and eventually a bell rings and life goes on for everyone. 

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Will school buildings and their parking lots fill up again soon?
   
    It seems that virtual learning spurred by the pandemic has created an awareness among the public that things are, in fact, more productive and healthier for everyone when teachers, administrators, and the many support personnel who contribute enormously to the daily job of educating students are actually back in the school building. Because of the individual experiences parents have dealt with and the studies documenting how student learning, socialization, and personal well-being are being negatively impacted by schools not being open, parents, politicians and educators want a return to in-school instruction. The question facing everyone is how to do it safely for all because it makes no sense to have teachers return to schools without being vaccinated; doing so, among other potential dangers, opens them to the possibility of being asymptomatic carriers to their own families and communities.

    Under the leadership of President Biden, the country is establishing realistic precautions as we move toward reopening. The CDC has outlined logical steps, including the wearing of masks in schools; regularly screening students for symptoms; providing cleaning, disinfection, and hand hygiene protocols; and a detailed list of "Strategies for Protecting K-12 School Staff from COVID-19." 

     In Chicago, the nation's third largest school district, a tentative agreement between the school system and the teachers union has been reached, which proposes to vaccinate 1,500 Chicago Public School staff members each week under a new program developed during the collective bargaining process. That is definitely commendable, and it shows that districts and unions can reach a logical, safe approach to the reopening, but with thousands of in-school personnel in Chicago, more needs to be done…and it needs to be done more quickly. But at least Chicago has a possible model in place to build upon.

     Approximately half the states in the country have already started vaccinating their teachers, but the process is slow and the other half of the country is not responding to this educational emergency. If President Biden would adopt the National Staff Meeting for Educators and find a way to roll out, say, National Guard trucks filled with vaccines to the specified schools where educational staff members are to meet, get vaccinated and then return to their school buildings, it would speed up the entire process. In addition, it would emphasize what people are finally starting to realize:

TEACHERS ARE ESSENTIAL WORKERS!

(Copyright Chuck Cascio; All rights reserved, including use of the label "National Staff Meeting for Educators.")