The honeymoon is over in communities where the Delta variant has taken hold. Since back to school, I’ve spent weeks filling in for principals, supervising children, checking children’s temperatures and providing them masks, directing traffic in the parking lot, picking up garbage, wiping down cafeteria tables — all of which are required to run safe schools in these times. I’ve talked to other heads of schools that can say the same thing or something similar since the start of this school year. The same culprit continues to affect us all — COVID-19. However, normally we have a village to manage these tasks. Now, we don’t.
Staffing shortages are severe and there are no substitutes to be had. Further aggravating the situation, are public health rules that require paid school staff who test negative for COVID-19 but remain unvaccinated to stay home for 10 days at a time, when they are exposed to someone who tests positive. It leaves the rest of us — including the students — without a teacher, cafeteria worker, or janitorial staff. We have to throw on five or six hats in order to ensure that our students are educated.
Necessary? Yes. Sustainable? No.
Governor Gavin Newsom took a good first step when he required school employees to be vaccinated, but he left a gaping loophole. He allowed school staff to test-out of being vaccinated by committing to take a COVID test twice a week. Then he put the burden on schools to become COVID testing centers overnight for the employees who refuse to get vaccinated.
The result is that these staff who refuse vaccination have to be benched for two weeks every time they get exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19. Imagine, if you will, being a part of a 40-person team and every week there are 10 people who are forced to quarantine for two weeks, leaving 30 team members to do the work of 40 during that first week. That’s one person doing their job and the additional work of three coworkers. These types of staffing outages are debilitating schools across the state. There are news reports of schools having to shut down classrooms for lack of staff.
Some major school systems with the political clout have taken matters into their own hands. Los Angeles Unified, for example, has closed the loophole and is requiring all school employees to be vaccinated. The state of California should do the same. California has over 6 million students who can’t afford for us to agree to anything less than 100% vaccination for school employees.
Yes, the policy could force out educators who refuse to get vaccinated but, they won’t be working anyway if they get exposed to a positive case. Essentially, the unvaccinated have become hard to employ in a school setting. They can go out at any time and take down our schools with them.
We can’t risk that.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Margaret Fortune is the President/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college. She is a State Delegate on the California Democratic Party (CDP) State Central Committee where she also is an elected member of the Executive Board of the CDP Black Caucus. Fortune is Treasurer of National Action Network (NAN) Sacramento and has been an education advisor to two California Governors. She is a graduate of the UC Berkeley and Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government.