Op-Ed: CDC, End the Back-and-Forth!

The CDC has announced that teachers do not need vaccines to return to their classrooms. They only need “resources” to stay safe.

Why doubt the CDC? Why question this government institution? Everyone should doubt an institution that reverses its position and puts safety last.

The CDC has said that masks do not work. Later on, they proclaimed that wearing a mask was necessary. They have said the virus is airborne, but advised people should wash their groceries. The CDC said schools should close when infection rates exceed 3%. Infection rates have reached double that level. Schools have remained open in spite of increased cases. The CDC has said people should not celebrate holidays with family members, hold funerals, or fully open bars and restaurants.

Now the CDC claims that schools should open immediately for in person instruction, without completing teacher vaccinations. It claims that it has data to support this. However, new deadly strains of the virus are to be avoided by the rest of the population. These strains are still being studied by the medical community, and the CDC has said these strains are to be feared. Teachers, however, are told to head right back into their crowded classrooms without proper protection. This trivializes teachers concerns that the virus can be contracted at work and these platitudes lack credibility.  Rochelle Walensky speaks safely from zoom calls and from behind laptops. She is safe from any source of infection, all while criticizing teachers for delivering instruction remotely.  She demands that teachers take risks while she isolates in her empty office. So much for concerting and protection of others, or even leading by example.

If states want their schools to open for in person instruction, vaccines should be set aside for teachers. N-95 masks could be offered to teachers who prefer not to be vaccinated. This is an action simple to take. The CDC will not use its influence to get this done. Why? They claim their data supports opening schools without teachers receiving vaccines. This seems hypocritical as many other groups of workers have received vaccines ahead of teachers. Bill DeBlasio has begun to vaccinate New York City police officers. Was data required by the CDC and local governments to release those vaccines? The NYPD employs approximately 55,000 people. Only 36,000 are uniformed officers. Is there data to support that all these workers are in danger of contracting the Covid virus while on the job? Not likely.

Many of our legislative representatives have advocated that schools deliver in person instruction or lose funding. However, much of their work during the pandemic has been done remotely. Yet this group of workers has received vaccines. Why allocate vaccines to remote workers?  The House and Senate are in an excellent position to maintain social distance. They are a group of workers, comprised of adults, who can maintain personal space and wear masks. Since they advocate that this is something teachers and young children should do, our legislators should lead by example. They should demonstrate that these measures are enough to protect oneself, without vaccines, from the virus.  They should stay in session, continuously, and work shoulder to shoulder, side by side, Republican and Democrat. This would prove that the mandates they direct schools to follow are safe, and demonstrate a unified effort to fight the virus. This should be done prior to schools delivering in person instruction. After all, we need to know that these measures actually do keep children safe. It is irresponsible to subject children to untested safety measures.

Teachers have worked tirelessly to deliver instruction to their students. The CDC has not supported them and has not advocated for their safety. It is no wonder that teachers do not trust an organization that has one set of rules for them, and another set of rules for other groups of workers. Is that because teachers are often women and their lives and work are not valued as that of men? Or is it because teachers serve underprivileged students? Our public school teachers serve the children of immigrants, students with special needs, children of color, and families who live in abject poverty.  Perhaps that is why there is so little concern for the safety and wellbeing of public school teachers. The CDC’s guidelines raise that question. Vaccines have been made available to other workers, but teachers are not prioritized. If it is important to deliver instruction in person, then vaccines should be provided to teachers.

We, UFT Solidarity, call upon the CDC to stop the hypocrisy and get behind teacher safety. Now!

About the author: Jackie L is a retired NYC DOE Delegate and Elementary School teacher. She is a proud member of UFT Solidarity.

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