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Editorial: Teachers' vaccinations can only help SC kids battle COVID learning loss

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Morningside Middle School reading intervention teacher Rokenya Corbin received her first COVID-19 shot Tuesday, on the first day of the Charleston County School District's vaccination program. Here Nancy O’Donoghue prepares to administer the vaccine at the Garrett Academy campus. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

It’s too late to salvage much of this school year for those students who remain locked out of their classrooms most days — and we’re going to have to do a lot more than just hope to catch them up. But Monday’s start of the S.C. teacher vaccination season is still encouraging.

Not because COVID-19 puts teachers at any greater risk than other essential employees. People are actually safer at school than just about anywhere other than locked in their homes 24/7. And they’re certainly at less risk of death or serious illness than older residents.

No, it’s encouraging because even if we can’t salvage an entire semester, getting teachers their first shot this week or next and their second shot three weeks later still should mean school districts that haven’t done so will be willing to allow students back in the classroom full-time by mid- to late April. And for summer schools, which they should offer. And in the fall.

It’s encouraging because fully vaccinated teachers are teachers who don’t have to quarantine when they come in contact with someone who is infected, which means fewer students would have to sit in their classroom with a babysitter rather than a teacher — or fewer would have to stay home because so many teachers are quarantined that the school is closed.

Because a teacher who goes to work frightened — even if unjustifiably so — isn't able to focus on being the great teacher those students need.

Because every day a teacher goes to work frightened puts that teacher a day closer to leaving the profession, and deepening our teacher shortage.

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The arrival of teacher vaccination season in South Carolina is encouraging because it demonstrates that many of our school districts are organized and proactive enough to get everything worked out in advance so they could open vaccination clinics as soon as the governor allowed them to do so. Which was also Monday.

We shared S.C. Education Superintendent Molly Spearman’s belief that Gov. Henry McMaster should not have overridden CDC guidelines last month and pushed teachers down below older South Carolinians for vaccinations.

But we also shared her belief that her order requiring them to make arrangements with local medical providers meant school districts were in a position to save teachers the hassle of having to schedule their appointments individually, and to put teachers at the front of the lines that opened Monday for everyone 55 and older, everyone with cancer, heart disease, diabetes and many other medical conditions as well as everyone whose job requires them to work near others, even if those jobs don’t fall into the “essential” category. And they did.

The Charleston County School District opened what could be less than two weeks of vaccination clinics on Tuesday. Dorchester District 2 started vaccinating its employees Monday and expected to finish Wednesday, and the Horry County School District plans to hold its first of two days of vaccinations on Friday. Even Columbia’s Richland 1, which was one of the last holdouts against allowing children back into the classroom, has teacher vaccinations scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

According to Ms. Spearman’s spokesman, they were among more than 40 of the state’s 79 traditional school districts that started vaccination clinics this week. That includes seven school districts that got their teachers vaccinated last week — York 1, 2, 3 and 4, Dillon 3, Florence 1 and Darlington — using President Joe Biden’s order requiring retail pharmacies to prioritize teachers.

Those districts that haven’t scheduled vaccinations yet need to get to work, and the state needs to provide any assistance it can. And teachers who are still wondering when they'll be able to get vaccinated might want to consider that even if the governor had prioritized them, they'd likely still be waiting on their district officials — and redirect some of their anger accordingly. 

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