Oregon has received big news about vaccinations for teachers. According to Governor Brown, 1) daycare teachers 2) preschool teachers and 3) K-12 teachers, will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine sometime around January 25th. While this news brings excitement and relief to some families, it brings anxiety and worry to others. Some people will feel it is safe for their kiddos to return to school and others are still not convinced it is safe even with a staff that has been vaccinated. Aside from students and families, many teachers I know are feeling massive pressure with this decision that was made for them. Some of my teacher friends feel excited and hopeful, but others feel like they are being forced into an unsafe situation. 

There is much to consider with the kids’ return to school. Will the kids still be able to contract the virus, even though the teachers will be vaccinated? Will teachers still be at risk for contracting the virus, even if they are vaccinated? If admin/non-teaching staff is ineligible for the vaccine, are they expected to return to work when the teachers do? If anyone in the school is infected, how likely is it that virus could be passed along to at-risk loved ones at students’ and teachers’ homes? 

I conducted a survey on my personal Facebook page and my kids’ school “Parent Teacher Organization” Facebook page. I asked fellow parents the question, “Once teachers have been vaccinated, if given the choice, will you be sending your kiddos back to school?” with an option of 1) yes 2) no 3) unsure. The ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers were exactly even. 39% said ‘no’. 39% said ‘yes’. The other 22% said ‘unsure’. 

I also asked a survey question to teachers/school admin. “Once you have received a vaccine, will you feel safe going back to school?” 60% of the responses were ‘yes’, 20% said ‘no’, and the other 20% was ‘unsure’. 

Although I did not ask respondents to explain their answer, many people gave me their reasons. Common reasons for a ‘no’ answer included student and/or their family in a high-risk group, concern that others in the school won’t take safety precautions seriously and concerns about contagion, even with vaccinations. Common reasons for a ‘yes’ answer included concerns about students’ socio-emotional health and student/parent general struggles with distance learning. 

There have been many articles discussing how equity affects parents’ feelings about distance learning. I agree with this idea whole-heartedly. I will use myself for an example. Our household has been successful with distance-learning for many reasons. I am lucky enough to be a stay-at-home mom. My husband works outside the home. Because of this, I have not had to lose my job or work from home due to the pandemic. I am fortunate enough to spend all my time and energy ensuring the kids are attending their meetings and getting their homework turned in. I am also familiar with distance learning because I spent the last 8 years knocking out college and grad school – almost entirely online. I also majored in education. Our kids miss their friends, but have said they love distance learning, and would be happy to finish the school year in this way.  Our situation is beyond privileged.

Now let’s flip it to the many reasons that some households are likely struggling: 1) Parents are not familiar with technology, 2) parents do not understand their children’s school content, 3) parents/caretakers have to work and cannot assist kids with their schoolwork, leaving it up to older siblings or other caregivers, 4) households don’t have consistent internet or technology tools, 5) students are struggling socially and emotionally, 6) students have to do their work without any academic support, 7) language barriers, 8) students cannot navigate the school website/different platforms, 9) families are struggling with housing and food stability due to the pandemic … the list goes on and on. Each family has their own unique privileges or hindrances. Different households will have different views on distance learning and on the possible return to school due to teacher vaccinations. Families will have tough decisions to make when schools relay their options for returning to school.

My small survey and its results displayed a group of mixed responses and feelings. I would be interested to see people’s answers on a larger scale. The pandemic has caused a lot of confusion for many because there are so many unknowns. Best of luck to you all in your back-to-school decisions.