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Jackson Cit Pat: To reopen schools, give teachers priority vaccine access

December 21, 2020
Opinion Editorial

By U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg

The year 2020 has presented numerous challenges we could not have seen coming 12 months ago. A deadly virus has taken a tremendous toll on all aspects of life – physically, emotionally, economically.

As we look forward to 2021, we all dream of a return to normalcy and to eradicate COVID-19 once and for all.

With the historic achievement of Operation Warp Speed, and the successes of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, these desires are becoming closer to reality. In fact, the eyes of the nation were on Michigan last weekend as trucks with the first doses departed the Pfizer facility near Kalamazoo.

Thanks to these vaccine breakthroughs, health experts and local officials are developing plans for distribution in communities like Jackson and beyond.

An overwhelming majority of Americans support priority vaccine access for vulnerable populations, like individuals with pre-existing conditions and nursing home residents, as well as our frontline workers. K-12 educators should be given priority as well.

U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills, and I, both members of the House Education and Labor Committee, recently introduced a bipartisan resolution calling for COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts to give teachers top-tier consideration.

By doing so, we can take a critical step to keeping Jackson County students in school and parents at work.

After months of remote schooling, we simply cannot ignore the long-term educational and emotional shortfalls stemming from virtual learning. The lack of face-to-face connection has created new barriers that have hampered children’s social development that we often take for granted. This personal connection is even more critical for students with learning disabilities.

Calculating the mental toll on our youth by being out of the classroom is nearly impossible, but health experts warn that social isolation creates the risk of anxiety and depression. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 20% of teens have seriously contemplated suicide during the pandemic.

We know the achievement gap is widening through virtual learning, too. While some families have high-speed internet access and technology to properly handle the demands, many in both urban and rural areas lack the capability to participate in virtual classrooms. In many districts, enrollment is down and some students just aren’t showing up.

Recent studies have shown women, in particular, have been disproportionately hurt by this new educational arrangement. I have talked to many constituents who have had to leave the workforce to oversee their child’s at-home school responsibilities or absorb additional childcare expenses on their monthly budget.

It is a devastating economic decision that has been forced upon many parents. Withdrawal from the workforce then leads to further disruption in our local economy at a time when so many small businesses are fighting for survival.

The evidence is mounting in favor of reopening our schools. Protecting teachers with a safe and effective vaccine will give them peace of mind and create a domino effect of positive impacts on our children, their parents, and our communities.

A new year, and a new semester for Jackson County schools, is on the horizon. Let’s prioritize our students and teachers and make it possible for a safe return to the classroom.

This article originally appeared in the December 20 edition of the Jackson Citizen Patriot.