Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants classrooms reopened by March 1, but  COVID vaccinations could make all the difference for school staff and students. Image via Shutterstock
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants classrooms reopened by March 1, but COVID vaccinations could make all the difference for school staff and students.

Parents are eager to get kids back in the classroom, and vaccinations could make the transition safer for everyone.

PORT HURON, Mich.—Students are returning to classrooms, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced this week. 

School districts are preparing their plans for transition back to traditional learning environments March 1 and leaders say kids in classrooms is an important stone on the roadway to normalcy. 

But it all hinges on one thing: vaccinations.

“The role of immunization is crucial,” said Laurie Oldford, board member of the Port Huron Area School District. “I think that teachers are a high priority; I think they should be at the top of the list, next to healthcare providers and essential frontline people.”

Oldford, a retired teacher, has been hearing the first stories about people scheduling appointments for their immunizations or those who have already had the first round of the two-dose vaccination. But she knows that getting as many staff and faculty immunized as possible is the key factor in meeting Gov. Whitmer’s timeline. 

READ: Michigan’s University Enrollment Drops Due to Pandemic

Keeping Teachers Safe, for Students  

Looking just a dozen miles south of Port Huron, at St. Clair, Michigan, Kimberly Eberhard is concerned about when her turn to get the vaccination will come. 

Eberhard teaches English at St. Clair High School, part of the East China School District. Her district is resuming partial face-to-face instruction Jan. 19 and she plans to use her unspent banked time off sporadically to mitigate her exposure to the virus until her time to get vaccinated comes. She’s keenly aware, though, that most teachers aren’t so lucky.

“Rather than back and forth, back and forth, as teachers get quarantined or ill and are unable to be FTF [face-to-face], I would rather wait until we have been vaccinated and are immune before returning,” Eberhard told The ‘Gander. “Kids may choose remote or [face-to-face]. This option is not available to teachers.”

The scenario Eberhard described, of teachers getting sick and needing to quarantine, is something Oldford saw as well, and something that contributed to widespread school shutdowns in November. 

“If too many teachers are quarantined, [face-to-face] ceases as there are no adults in the building,” Eberhard explained. “This is what happened in November.”

The closure of high schools in November was initiated as part of Gov. Whitmer’s three-week pause, but the reason, educators explained, was a staffing problem that happened from teachers facing coronavirus exposure events. 

“The reason we had to shut down in November was due to the shortage of staff,” Oldford explained. “So if our teaching staff and substitutes are immunized that’s going to create a much safer environment.”

As for assisting in vaccination programs, Oldford is unsure; it’s a conversation her district still has to have. While schools do apply pressure to get students their childhood vaccinations, they tend to be more hands-off with the annual flu vaccine. At present, Oldford isn’t sure what end of the spectrum coronavirus vaccinations for students will fall on. 

COMING UP: Betsy DeVos Asked Congress to Defend Her Legacy. Michiganders Want It Reversed.