Opinion: We can open our schools and and keep our teachers safe

Throughout this pandemic, we have been urged to “follow the science.”  The medical experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, U.S. Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Rochelle Wollensky, and top California Department of Public Health officials have roundly concluded that schools — particularly elementary schools — can safely reopen without vaccinating teachers.

Research conducted internationally and throughout the United States consistently reveals dramatically lower infection rates among young children in congregate settings — without increasing infection rates among teachers or child care providers. When many California public charter and private schools opened months ago, California’s top health official found no increase in viral transmission from their reopening.

Science hasn’t guided school re-opening decisions, unfortunately; politics has. Politics opened bars, card clubs and marijuana dispensaries over the past year while closing our schools and stranding our students — with children from our poorest families suffering most severely.

Gov. Gavin Newsom committed billions of dollars to help schools safely re-open — to reduce class sizes, provide masks and face shields, expand testing and improve classroom ventilation. Yet we see little progress in bringing children back to class — and none among San Jose’s 19 districts — even as we emerge from the purple tier to less restrictive tiers in the weeks ahead.

As chair of California’s Big City Mayors’ Coalition, I joined 10 other mayors in urging the state to pair a commitment to vaccinate teachers with a re-opening mandate. Last week’s legislative proposal — upping the ante for school testing and safety spending to $6.6 billion — still doesn’t require a single school to open. The governor responded that their proposal “doesn’t go far enough or fast enough” and committed to prioritize teachers for vaccination in March. Unfortunately, there’s still no commitment from districts to open their school doors.

We must do better. We need to open our schools much sooner — safely — and we don’t need to wait for Sacramento. If teachers’ fears persist, then Bay Area counties can accelerate vaccinations of school staff — on the specified condition those schools open upon vaccination. Several counties have expanded vaccinations to include teachers, but they must get in line with marijuana delivery drivers and 5.9 million other “essential workers” in California.

Instead, Bay Area counties should double-down on the governor’s accelerated vaccination of teachers but take a more strategic approach: Commit to prioritize vaccinating every staff member of those schools committed to opening immediately, following three principles:

• First, start where it’s safest, by prioritizing preschools and elementary schools. Extensive evidence of dramatically lower rates of virus transmission and illness among school-attending children under 10 years of age also shows they’re much less likely to transmit coronavirus to adults.

• Second, focus on equity, and prioritize schools serving our poorest children. Multiple studies show that remote learning most severely disadvantages our students from our lowest-income families — assuming they have internet access to learn at all. In San Jose, we have confronted the digital divide by investing $10 million to

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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