Teachers, students and mandatory testing

To many, children represent our greatest hope for the future and are considered our most valuable resource. Hundreds of millions of dollars are invested yearly in communities throughout the nation in efforts to provide the most up-to-date instruction methods and provide youth with a quality education.

However, coronavirus has made educating our youth a difficult task and put the health of school staff in jeopardy as schools have been forced to alternate between in-person learning and virtual learning based on local rates of infection.

Now, elementary and middle school students throughout our state are being asked to return to classrooms for at least one week to complete mandatory testing. However, teachers and school staff are not included in Georgia’s first groups of individuals who qualify to receive coronavirus vaccinations. Georgia is currently in Phase 1A-plus of its COVID vaccination plan, which includes those older than 65, first responders and other groups deemed at greater risk for contracting coronavirus but does not allow for vaccinations of school staff members.

Teachers and staff from school systems throughout our state have recently protested decisions to return to classroom instruction due to legitimate fears of contracting the virus themselves and possibly exposing their loved ones to the virus as a result. Many have been forced to decide whether to return to classrooms against their will or face the possibility of being unemployed.

If our children are our greatest resource, they and those charged with educating them should be protected as much as physicians, nurses, lab techs, EMS personnel, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, members of the law enforcement community, firefighters and first responders.

In recent years when there was no public health crisis to be concerned with, many school districts had to offer signing bonuses and other financial incentives to have teachers for each classroom.

A plan is now being discussed by Gov. Brian Kemp and State School Superintendent Richard Woods that would provide a one-time, $1,000 bonus to all K-12 public-school teachers and school-level staff members in the state.

According to the Georgia Department of Education, the proposed bonus payments are intended for all school-level staff in Georgia’s K-12 public schools, including “teachers, paraprofessionals, school counselors, school psychologists, school nurses, custodians, bus drivers, school nutrition staff, media specialists, clerical staff and administrative assistants, school principals, assistant principals, instructional coaches, therapists, etc.”

A $1,000 bonus is not worth risking one’s life nor does it provide any protection to those who will be required to participate in activities that directly conflict with CDC recommendations for social distancing.

Our state’s and nation’s education leaders should demand that school staff be vaccinated as quickly as other population segments who are considered essential workers.

Until it is safe for students and staff to return to classrooms, the burden of virtual learning will continue to inflict financial and emotional stress on all involved. Until teachers are vaccinated, our schools are not safe.

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