I recently wrote a post urging us, as an educator community, to prioritize the health and safety of our students and fellow teaching colleagues as we think about how to best approach the COVID-19 pandemic within our school communities. In recent weeks, there has been increased talk about mandating teachers across the nation to get the COVID-19 vaccine. In his recently released COVID-19 Action Plan, President Biden is pushing for more states to require vaccine requirements for all teacher employees. In certain cities like New York City and Los Angeles where vaccine mandates have been enforced, teachers are being threatened with unpaid leave and possible dismissal if they don’t comply with the mandate. Needless to say, we are living in a crazy world right now!
For the record, I am fully vaccinated and have contracted COVID-19 even after receiving the vaccine. Although I have personally evolved into a strong proponent of the vaccine, I don’t believe that teachers who are against receiving the vaccine should be vilified or publicly shamed for their choice, especially if it goes against their religious and/or medical beliefs. Quite frankly, I don’t believe that going that route will get us to an ultimate solution to this issue.
The idea of disregarding a teacher’s religious beliefs by forcing them to get vaccinated doesn’t sit well with me. I can’t fully articulate why I feel this way, but that’s what my heart’s telling me. I’m no scholar of constitutional law but I think it’s appropriate to assess whether presenting the vaccine as a mandate, instead of a strong recommendation, is indeed constitutional, given the significant amount of teacher resistance towards the vaccine.
For certain unvaccinated teachers, I can understand why they would have reservations about getting the vaccine. They can point to recent reports that the antibodies that people developed from the Pfizer vaccine may disappear seven months after receiving the vaccine. They can also point to the blood clots that certain people developed after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Even though blood clot cases are rare, it is still enough for certain folx to remain skeptical about getting vaccinated.
When I contracted COVID-19 a couple of months back, I was asymptomatic and just needed to self-quarantine in my home for a couple of weeks until the virus completely left my body. I’m certain that my physical condition would have been significantly worse, or potentially fatal, if I hadn’t received the vaccine. Just because that was my COVID-19 story doesn’t automatically mean that others will have a similar experience. As a matter of fact, I have had vaccinated friends who have shared with me how they still experienced severe symptoms when they contracted the virus.
I still believe that the vaccine provides us with the greatest form of protection, even though it isn’t foolproof. There is more than enough scientific research and evidence out there to substantiate this claim. Required masking and increased testing can definitely help, but performing those actions won’t provide us the same level of protection as the vaccine. Those are and have been the facts.
However, I’m hoping moving forward that we can come to a healthy resolution that is not only sensitive to the feelings and perspectives of both parties (i.e. the vaccinated and the unvaccinated), but is also centering the health and safety of students, teachers, and staff members.
I’m thinking out loud here, but one possible solution can be to have the unvaccinated teachers teach virtually as a way for them to keep their jobs while also centering the safety of their students and teaching colleagues. In the case of vaccinated teachers and staff members, they would be the only ones who would be allowed to physically work in the school. All of this sounds great, but that would ultimately be a logistical mess for school districts to have to figure out.
I’m not sure what the future looks like, but here’s what I do know … COVID-19 is a real thing that is impacting the lives of all and relegating this pandemic to political one-upping will be a huge disservice to our students and teaching colleagues. This pandemic is still a life or death situation and it’s important that we continue to treat it as such moving forward before we lose more innocent students, teachers, and staff members at the hands of this virus.
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 ...