student wellness

When We Talk Masks and Vaccines, Let's Stop Talking Politics and Focus on Health and Safety

Some folx want to make getting vaccinated and wearing masks into a political issue  —  we’re seeing that all over — but it really isn’t about politics. I don’t care what your political affiliation is — Democratic, Republican, liberal or conservative — none of that matters when we’re talking about your safety and the safety of your students and colleagues in your building.

For those who refuse to get a vaccine, let me start off by saying, first and foremost, that I totally respect you. I know that some of you are very skeptical about the science behind the creation of the vaccines. I totally get it! I was one of those individuals before I ultimately decided to get it for myself. My wife and 3-year old son were my main reasons for my change of heart.

Now let me be even more transparent for a second. 

Even though I’m fully vaccinated and have been following social distancing guidelines and wearing my mask in public, I still ended up contracting COVID-19 during my most recent family vacation abroad. I was asymptomatic the whole time, so if it had not been for the fact that I had to visit a medical clinic to get a required negative test to board the airplane, I would have been walking around infecting others, including my family. 

I didn’t experience any fever, fatigue, loss of smell or taste or any of the major symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19. I felt totally fine, so why would I have even thought to go to the clinic? That’s exactly how easy it is to contract and spread the virus if we’re not careful or we underestimate the magnitude of what’s going on.

I’m no scientist, but I’m certain that, had I not received the vaccination, my physical condition would have been significantly worse.

Now, imagine if you or a colleague of yours unknowingly contracted the virus and had the same asymptomatic situation that I experienced. Unless your school or district is regularly testing teachers and staff members, your asymptomatic self is going to report to work because you have no reason to stay home. You’re feeling great, you’re feeling healthy, right? 

You don’t want to be in the position of the unvaccinated California teacher who caught COVID-19, kept teaching, and infected half the students in the classroom. 

Let’s also suppose that you’re fully vaccinated, just like I am. Even though we all should know by now that the vaccine doesn’t guarantee 100% protection from the virus, but protects you from serious illness and death, most of us who are fully vaccinated would be even less likely to imagine we are walking around carrying a case of asymptomatic COVID. But we could be

Now, let’s consider the fact that children under the age of 12 currently cannot receive any vaccine against the virus. This of course means that if you teach anywhere from kindergarten to sixth grade, your students cannot be vaccinated and are at higher risk for contracting the virus. Even if you are doing everything possible to take the necessary classroom precautions, like social distancing and handwashing, it’s still possible for any of our students to contract the virus in spite of all of your efforts. That’s how serious this pandemic has become. 

I don’t think there’s a single teacher in this world who loves the idea of wearing a mask all day while in their school building. I certainly don’t. But if I’m working in the school building, you already know I’m wearing my mask, because I know I will be protecting my students and everyone else around me.

Even though I hate to see teachers getting fired or resigning within the first month of this new school year for refusing to wear masks, the bottom line is that maintaining the safety and health of students, teachers, and staff members must be the top priority right now. If certain folx aren’t able to accept that, then they can’t remain on the job. 

Granted, the CDC is far from perfect. I have, at times, been very critical of their handling of schools as it relates to the pandemic. However, I will never go against their scientific expertise, nor will I ever know more about COVID-19 than they do. 

Therefore, if they are reporting that COVID-19 cases are rising and we still need to take preventative measures to control this virus, you better believe I’m taking heed to what they’re saying because, ultimately, this isn’t a political issue. This is a safety issue.

If we all could view it from that lens, maybe there wouldn’t be so much conflict. Let’s do right by our students and colleagues by prioritizing safety and putting our political views to the side. Besides, COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate against race, nor does it care what side of the political spectrum you’re on. Ultimately, all it cares about is your cells and vital organs.

Truthfully, most teachers, school leaders, and staff members across the nation are working extremely hard and doing their absolute best to protect their students in the midst of this pandemic. I don’t want that positive narrative to get lost in what I’m sharing with you.

I’m writing this with the hope that any vaccine and mask-resistant teachers who read this will, at least, be open-minded enough to consider a different perspective on this COVID-19 matter. I cannot stress this enough: My only concern is for the safety of the teachers, students, and staff members who are reporting back to school. 

Kwame Sarfo-Mensah
Kwame Sarfo-Mensah is the founder of Identity Talk Consulting, LLC., an independent educational consulting firm that provides professional development and consulting services globally to educators who desire to enhance their instructional practices and reach their utmost potential in the classroom. He is the author of two books, "Shaping the Teacher Identity: 8 Lessons That Will Help Define the ...

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