Why In-Person Instruction Should Resume Only After All Educators Have Access to the Vaccine
The following letter was submitted to the Lake Stevens, Washington School Board on January 19, 2021 by teacher Andrew Fritz. SchoolRubric was given permission by Mr. Fritz to publish and share the contents of his letter.
Dear President Mari Taylor, distinguished School Board Members of LSSD, and Superintendent Dr. Amybeth Cook, please consider the following during your virtual deliberations to secure a date for in-person instruction. Returning to in-person instruction after all educators have access to the vaccine is the only viable path for the following reasons:
Recent Acceleration in Vaccine Schedule
1.1 Within a few weeks school staff will have access to the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. The Johnson and Johnson/Astrazeneca vaccines are under review and waiting approval by the end of January/early February. That will vastly accelerate the vaccination timeline according to Dr. Anthony Fauci (source, Meet the Press interview January 17, 2021). On January 18, 2021, Governor Inslee announced a ramp up to 45,000 vaccinations a day and reduced phased schedules by several weeks. On January 19, 2021, Dr. Cook announced to the district that educators were placed on an accelerated timeline to receive the vaccine, group 1B tier 2. The next group in line for vaccination.
1.2 A decision to open in-person instruction requires these elements are met: (1) a substantial likelihood of success on the merits to open will serve the public good; (2) rights of the staff shall not be imperiled, [see section 12 state constitution]; (3) irreparable harm will not result based on the board’s decision; and (4) the board’s decision will serve the public interest. A decision to open after the vaccine is available, will satisfy the above elements:
(1) It is well established by the State that gatherings exceeding 5 people on a single occasion are a public health threat and therefore it defies basic reason that classrooms full of children indoors, from a diversity of homes across the district, meeting every day all day/half a day, whom will be exposed to teachers of all ages is any safer or is in any way reasonable.
(2) The health effects of COVID are severe and well documented, and in some cases cause death and/or lifelong injury, and therefore no other remedy will prevent or make up for the harm, the civil rights of employees will not be infringed if the decision to open is after vaccination.
(3) Irreparable harm is self-evident, according to Vin Gupta MD, an American Harvard-trained lung specialist, schools should remain virtual until all public education staff has access to the Covid vaccine. Dr. Gupta is an assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. On 1/10/2021 he stated on Twitter, “Teachers and support staff in schools should be fully vaccinated before they’re expected to return to in-person instruction. Doing otherwise is wrong and unjust to teachers nationwide.”
On January 12, 2021 Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal echoed Dr. Gupta’s sentiment in a letter he sent to Governor Inslee. He implored our governor to fast-track educators for vaccines in order to open schools safely. https://www.knkx.org/sites/kplu/files/202101/2021-01-OSPI-LettertoGov-SecretaryShah.pdf .
On the same day a bipartisan group of state senators and legislators sent a letter to Governor Inslee agreeing with our superintendent that educational staff should be vaccinated prior to return to in-person instruction, The lawmakers wrote in the Jan. 11 letter. “For school districts to expect teachers, administrators, and support staff to return to an in-building environment – interacting with hundreds and potentially thousands of students and parents – without providing an opportunity to be protected is unacceptable.” https://www.knkx.org/post/lawmakers-urge-inslee-prioritize-all-school-staff-covid-19-vaccine.
(4) The public interest of health and safety is open and obvious and is well documented and supported by our State government. As of Jan 4, the infection rate is five times greater than the previous threshold of 75 per 100,000 in Snohomish County. Opening prior to a vaccine is not advised for public health and is morally wrong.
1.3 Grades 3-5 are scheduled to return sometime in mid-March, should the board choose that option. Two-thirds of the year are over by mid-March. Teachers have perfected their online content. Students and teachers take on a family like quality within the first few months of school. That bond promotes learning and social/emotional health. I can attest Glenwood’s students have exceeded growth expectations. I assume that is district-wide. Our district has consistently proven top tier performance compared to other districts in the state. Removing students from their teacher the last third of the year will cause psychological, social, and academic harm. A return to in-person instruction after access to the vaccine ensures the least restrictive learning environment.
New Covid Variants to Consider
1.4 If schools are opened to in-person instruction with the new variants of Covid now established in the US, that will more likely than not lead to an increase in fatalities to educators, families, vulnerable students, and expose all in our community to viral spread. The CDC states these new highly virulent strains will become the most common strains in the US by March, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/more/science-and-research/scientific-brief-emerging-variants.html
These new strains have a significantly higher transmission rate according to the CDC. The transmission rate is expressed as Rt value. Rt value is the average number of people that become infected by one infected person. This new strain raises the Rt value up to .93 more than the original strain. In other words, this new strain potentially doubles the infectivity of the virus. [Source two: https://khub.net/documents/135939561/338928724/New+SARS-COV-2+variant+-+information+and+risk+assessment.pdf/b56d4591-0466-1a18-28dc-010e0fdeef53?t=1608569319930] (This source is Britain’s equivalent of the CDC).
AM/PM Schedule Was Already Vetted by LSSD
1.5 The AM/PM schedule was rejected over the summer with Mr. Ken Collins in full agreement. An AM/PM schedule co-mingles two cohorts in the same space on the same day. The impact of an AM/PM schedule is not tenable for many families. Transportation staff doubles their exposure time to possible contamination with this format. Commingling two cohorts in a day doubles the possible Rt exposure to all staff. Regardless of schedule, the new variant of Covid will quickly spread through campus contact and then into the community.
A Rush to In-Person Instruction and the Likely Outcome
1.6 On January 5, 2021, Los Angeles County, California, directed EMS services not to transport patients to hospitals if they were deemed a high risk of death. The county is forced into war-time like triage decisions due to Covid. There are a dozen refrigerator trucks at a hospital in LA County used as makeshift morgues due to a Covid death rate of 1 person every six minutes in LA county. Maintaining virtual instruction until vaccines are readily available will avoid our state/district/Snohomish County having to make those triage decisions.
1.7 I understand the pressure the board is under from some of the stakeholders in this community. In essence, your decision involves a time period of 6 weeks for K-2 and 4 weeks for other grades, likely less with a new vaccination schedule. Please consider the foregoing to remain virtual until all public school employees have access to the Covid 19 vaccine. Let’s continue to be the district that sets the example for others to follow.
Andrew Fritz, submitted to LSSD School Board 1/19/21 for hearing on 1/20/2021