Allahpundit mentioned this earlier but I wanted to focus on it for a couple of reasons. First, it really does strike me as outrageous that teachers are jumping the line for the vaccine while their unions are still talking about keeping them out of classrooms. Second, the piece that appeared in the Post opinion section today is about Fairfax County which is where I grew up and went to school. So I guess it feels a bit personal somehow.
Fairfax County has been considered an excellent school district for decades. So we’re not talking about schools full of 2nd rate teachers who don’t want to work. But as Rory Cooper pointed out today in the Post, there have been shifting statements about when they’ll get back to work in the classrooms.
The Fairfax County school system demanded and then received high-priority placement for teachers and administrators to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Those vaccines began a week ago, and, according to the Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand, 5,000 teachers have received their first dose and an additional 22,000 teachers are registered to receive their first dose soon.
And yet, having jumped to the front of the vaccine line, Brabrand, the FCPS School Board and the teachers union are delaying opening schools. That raises the question of why they have the priority placement to begin with, and whether these vaccinations should be immediately halted so that high-risk individuals or public servants who have been working outside of their homes for the entirety of the year have access.
Last week the district did announce plans to bring some students back to the classroom on Feb. 16. Other students won’t be returning until early March. A parent group called Open Fairfax County Public Schools released a statement saying they weren’t ready to applaud the school district until it actually happens. “Lucy has pulled this football several times before and trust is at a minimum,” they wrote. But even as teachers appear to finally be gearing up to go back to classrooms, their union is suggesting maybe school shouldn’t even be opened in the fall:
At the Jan. 21 school board meeting, Fairfax Education Association President Kimberly Adams said she received her first vaccine dose on Jan. 14, two days ahead of the scheduled start for school personnel. She has said that her union would not support a return to full-time education even in the fall. The fall. As in September 2021. Nine months after she was vaccinated.
The union says that all students must also be vaccinated. Never mind that no current vaccine has been approved for use on children under the age of 14. Adams also wants 14 days of zero community spread.
Again why are teachers at the front of the line for the vaccine line if their union is demanding they not return to school until students are vaccinated and community spread has stopped. Because it’s unlikely those things will happen this year.
Meanwhile, the evidence suggests teachers are not at greater risk than most people to catch the virus. They are certainly at less risk than people in a lot of other jobs:
Teachers were not at significantly higher risk of death from Covid-19 than the general population, Office for National Statistics figures suggest.
Restaurant staff, people working in factories and care workers had among the highest death rates, followed by taxi drivers and security guards.
Nurses were more than twice as likely as their peers to die of coronavirus.
Secondary school teachers may have been at slightly, but not measurably, higher risk than the average.
That report was based on data in the UK but last November the Post published a piece reaching a similar conclusion based on data from New York:
Because school numbers reflect covid infections that could have been picked up anywhere, our baseline assumption should be that school infection rates would at least mirror community infection rates. The prevalence of covid-19 detected in schools, in other words, shouldn’t be any different than if coronavirus testing were conducted among populations at local grocery stores or restaurants or gyms or public parks.
What should worry us is if we start to see infection rates among staff or students that are higher than in the surrounding community. Along with evidence of large clusters of cases in schools, this would point to the schools themselves as being loci of covid-19 spread.
But what the data actually shows is that infection rates in elementary and middle schools are lower than in the community as a whole while in high school they are about the same. Here’s a graph published by the Post:
The bottom line is that teachers and students do not seem to be at an elevated risk. And especially if the teachers have had the vaccine, there’s no reason for them not to be in the classroom.
Hopefully Fairfax County teachers will get back to work next month as planned. If not, the County should stop allowing them to the front of the vaccine line. I’m sure there are still lots of older people and people who are actually in front line jobs who are at higher risk (especially the men) who would benefit from getting the vaccine sooner.