PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon teachers are next in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine but many believe returning to in-person learning isn’t safe, even after they’re inoculated against the virus.
Francisca Alvarez teaches Spanish immersion to second graders at Scott Elementary School in Northeast Portland. Her 78-year-old mother lives with her and survived COVID-19 but is still dealing with some long-term effects.
Alvarez said she doesn’t feel it’s safe to go back to the classroom after teachers are vaccinated because there’s a chance of spreading the virus to her mother and students could spread it to their families.
“She barely made it, it is a miracle she’s surviving and we know that if you’ve had COVID you can get it again,” Alvarez said. “I want to be in the classroom, I don’t like teaching this virtual way, but my mantra — my belief — is if we survive we can teach later on, we can learn, we can narrow the achievement gap.”
Thousands of Oregon parents are pushing for schools to reopen, not just because many kids struggle with distance learning, but also because children are socially isolated and some are experiencing depression.
But Alvarez said enforcing COVID safety measures with young kids will be “torture for them and for us.”
“We go back to school and students still need to keep the six feet of distance and wear their masks,” she said. “They’re little kids and they’re dying to be near their classmates and they don’t understand, so my biggest concern is how am I going to keep them safe at school.”
Read the full update to the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance
Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill recently told KOIN 6 News he understands teachers’ concerns for their own safety and the safety of their students. But he said the idea that the vaccine can prevent a person from getting the disease but not prevent the person from spreading it is unusual because that’s not the case with other types of vaccines.
Alvarez is less concerned about teachers spreading it to their families and more concerned about students bringing it to their homes. She said she’s noticed many of her students live in homes with multiple generations.
“We are talking about human beings we’re not talking about objects,” she said. “Especially at my school there are a lot of families of color and we know the families of color are higher risk of getting COVID because they’re frontline workers, they’re essential workers.”
But Alvarez said she understands many of these same families depend on their kids going to school in order to survive.
“It’s not an easy fix,” she said.
Alvarez believes the situation just needs more time.
“I think we just have to be patient and things are changing rapidly,” she said.