For months, teachers’ personal and professional lives have been upended and many have put their lives at risk to ensure our kids receive a quality education during the pandemic – all while being told we would be prioritized when the moment came for a vaccine. Yet, Indiana decided to disregard the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance on vaccine allocation by delaying teacher vaccinations. Parents, students, and educators want nothing more than a return to normalcy and without prioritizing educators learning disruptions will only worsen.
While we agree that high-risk healthcare workers and the most vulnerable Hoosiers should be the first priority, many teachers, such as those teaching special education, cannot do their jobs effectively while socially distanced — for the child’s protection and for the educator’s.
Delaying vaccinations for educators impacts students, student learning and families. Since the start of the school year, nearly 11,000 educators and more than 24,000 students have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the state’s online dashboard. Thousands of students have been impacted by quarantine, while a patchwork of staff cover for quarantined teachers and parents and families try to return to work.
Students continue to experience learning disruptions as the pandemic continues. These disruptions are in large part due to students not being physically present in their schools. Vaccinating teachers will keep schools open and stop further losses in learning. No one wants to be in the classroom more than teachers.
Hoosier educators already feel undervalued by state leaders — mostly due to low pay and constantly changing standards and regulations from state government. Indiana’s current teacher shortage and shrinking pipeline of new educators will only worsen because of the pandemic. In a recent survey of Hoosier educators, 71% say they have considered retiring early or leaving the profession due to workload increases. Lack of respect for our profession has been a constant refrain among educators, and this latest action doesn’t help.
Just as we have watched our colleagues in neighboring states out-earn us on average teacher salaries, we now see them receive priority for the COVID-19 vaccine. As I write this, every Kentucky K-12 school employees will have received their first dose. Next week, 91,000 educators in Ohio will begin to receive their vaccinations. In Illinois, teachers are receiving the vaccine this week, with some getting it days ahead of schedule. Teachers in Michigan will also start to receive the vaccine this week, along with other essential workers.
Why not us? Why are we not considered essential workers as we ensure schools remain open and provide a safe learning environment for our state’s students? When will Hoosier educators be next in line?
Teachers must be prioritized to receive the vaccine. Too many schools are closed. Too many students are losing valuable in-person learning time. We need teachers vaccinated and safely teaching in person to best serve students and to move forward with restoring our state’s economy.
We are calling on the governor and the Indiana State Department of Health to follow CDC guidance and prioritize teachers in the state’s vaccine plan. Tell us when the vaccine will be available to teachers. Educators, parents and students deserve more.
Keith Gambill, president, Indiana State Teachers Association