The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Fairfax County should open schools or stop vaccinating teachers

Fairfax County school buses sit idle at a middle school in Falls Church in 2020. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
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Rory Cooper is the parent of three Fairfax County elementary school students. He was an adviser to former congressman Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

The Fairfax County school system demanded and then received high-priority placement for teachers and administrators to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Those vaccines began a week ago, and, according to the Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand, 5,000 teachers have received their first dose and an additional 22,000 teachers are registered to receive their first dose soon.

And yet, having jumped to the front of the vaccine line, Brabrand, the FCPS School Board and the teachers union are delaying opening schools. That raises the question of why they have the priority placement to begin with, and whether these vaccinations should be immediately halted so that high-risk individuals or public servants who have been working outside of their homes for the entirety of the year have access.

There is simply no common-sense explanation for vaccinating teachers ahead of other high-risk groups if they refuse to return to full-time in-person learning. The simple truth is that the Fairfax school system wants the benefits of heroism without taking a heroic action.

At the Jan. 21 school board meeting, Fairfax Education Association President Kimberly Adams said she received her first vaccine dose on Jan. 14, two days ahead of the scheduled start for school personnel. She has said that her union would not support a return to full-time education even in the fall. The fall. As in September 2021. Nine months after she was vaccinated.

The union says that all students must also be vaccinated. Never mind that no current vaccine has been approved for use on children under the age of 14. Adams also wants 14 days of zero community spread. Neither of these goals is likely to occur this calendar year. The excuses pile up faster than the half-inch of snow that typically shuts down school operations.

Students are struggling. They have been locked out of schools for nearly a year now. Children with learning disabilities have had little to no support. Special-needs children were turned away from a hybrid return by the union. Kindergartners have never seen their schools. Return dates have been continually pushed back, usually the night before a return was scheduled, resulting in a few tears shed in our home (by the kids, too).

Academically, students are struggling. The data shows that decisively. Emotionally, they’re struggling. Sadly, the data also shows that decisively, and parents are seeing it. Real harm is being caused to them, and it’s by the people meant to look out for them. And they want that harm to continue for another year.

Typically, when the school opening debate is had, union allies line up to accuse parents of wanting teachers to get sick or wanting increased community spread. Or they selfishly accuse parents of wanting a day care not an education. These insulting and bad-faith arguments are not supported by science or medical, pediatric and pandemic experts who almost universally say schools should be open for public health purposes.

Schools are indeed open all across this country five days a week. Teachers without vaccines in public schools elsewhere, or private schools right here in Fairfax County, are working every day with reasonable mitigation efforts and with very little negative consequence. A valid question is whether these teachers who have been in-person for months or the entire year have also been skipped in the vaccination line by the Fairfax teachers union.

Last week, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced that his state is prepared to take all available legislative and legal action to get schools reopened in the next several weeks. He was, of course, attacked by unions in his own state. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Fairfax County Chairman Jeffrey McKay (D) continue to hide from this issue altogether and must hope that people simply forget that we even have a governor or county government.

It bears repeating that Fairfax County schools are some of the best-funded schools in our nation. They have had a year to make plans and use their incredible resources to open schools. Instead they have done very little to that effect, leaning on their four-day-a-week schedule of laptop time. And this funding is at risk because taxpaying parents are voting with their feet and are either begging for entry to private schools or leaving the county altogether.

The school board, under threat of recall by several parent groups, has shown itself to be completely unprepared and unwilling to execute their positions responsibly. Voters should sign recall petitions and remember their incompetence at the ballot box.

Countless people with serious health risks may not see a vaccine for months. They were told to wait for the teachers. And now school administrators simply don’t want to make good on the promise of their position in the vaccine line. It’s time to open the schools full time or get new administrators. Really, we should do both.

Read more:

Letter to the editor: Fairfax County Public Schools get an F on adapting to covid this year

Letter to the editor: Fairfax County Public Schools’ online teaching needs adjusting

Helaine Olen: It’s time to admit it: Remote education is a failure

Emily Oster: Schools are not spreading covid-19. This new data makes the case.