By: Mike Anderson

Last week I got my first AstraZeneca shot at a pharmacy. Like many others who have been fortunate to be vaccinated, I felt an immediate sense of relief. But I also felt guilt. Both my daughters are education workers. Both face the risk of COVID infection daily.

I, on the other hand, sit safely ensconced in my home office. My interactions with people are primarily over the phone or on Zoom. Occasionally, I venture out, keeping my distance, often wearing a double mask. In short, my risk level is nil compared to my daughters.

Recently, my eldest daughter, a supply teacher, narrowly escaped infection when a young boy in one of her classes was sent to school with COVID. His parents thought it was a case of the sniffles. The entire class, including my daughter, was forced into a 14-day quarantine.

My youngest daughter works as a school administrator in an elementary school in one of Toronto’s worst COVID hotspots.

There have been several positive cases in her school. While she takes every precaution, she tells me that she often comes into physical contact with young children who enter the school office not wearing their masks correctly, allowing them to drop below their noses.

On April 1, when the Premier and the Minister of Health announced the current province-wide lockdown, they said that it was vital to keep schools open despite rising case numbers. They said closing schools would impact children’s mental health.

It’s true that children deserve to be in school. However, education workers also deserve to be protected.

Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, the co-chair of Ontario’s science advisory table, has openly acknowledged that schools will be impacted as infections grow in the community.

Since schools resumed in January, the weekly number of new infections reported among students and staff in Ontario has risen every week.

There are 21 schools in York Region reported in outbreak, with nine closed and another 119 under surveillance, including Keswick and Sutton District High Schools.

The increased risk for education workers was driven home by news that a 47-year-old teacher is in critical condition in a Toronto hospital after contracting COVID from a student.

There have been at least two reported deaths among education workers in the province due to COVID.

As the variants of concern spread in our communities, it’s time to demand that education workers be prioritized for immunization.

Unfortunately, as things stand now, they will have to wait until Phase 2 of the provincial vaccine rollout to get a shot, which could be as late as June.

The Elementary Teacher’s Federation of Ontario (EFTO), along with other teachers’ unions, has been calling on the province to use the upcoming April break to immunize all 200,000 education workers across the province. But those calls appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

That may change as public support builds for vaccinating education workers. A petition urging the Ford government to vaccinate all teachers and support staff on change.org has over 65,000 signatures as of Tuesday.

Surely, the province must act. After all, New Brunswick did; closing high schools for several days to vaccinate high school teachers and support staff.

While I’m grateful to receive my shot, I would have gladly stepped aside to allow my daughters to get theirs. If schools should be “first to open and last to close,” it’s time to prioritize education workers.

And If the province is not prepared to do so, then education workers should do what their colleagues in Chicago did;

Refuse to go back to the classroom until it’s safe to do so.

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