Virginia Education Association: Schools need virtual instruction until all teachers vaccinated

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SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA (WJHL) Some Virginia school districts in the region made the decision to return to in-person learning this week, which comes as teachers begin receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in the commonwealth’s phase 1b of distribution.

Whether looking at schools in Tennessee or Virginia, this is not a new challenge. People have fallen on both sides of the “in-person versus virtual learning” argument since the pandemic began.

The call for virtual learning only is loud from the leader of the Virginia Education Association, which has 40,000 members statewide.

“We can recover from a loss of learning, but a loss of life cannot be and that is so important,” said Dr. James Fedderman, VEA president.

As an educator and recent COVID survivor, Fedderman says all Virginia schools need to remain virtual until all educators are able to get the vaccine.

“Numbers don’t lie and the human toll behind each of those numbers demands that we pause in-person learning until all can be made safe,” said Fedderman.

Teachers in Southwest Virginia were able to start getting the vaccine on January 11, but a recent drop in vaccine supply is slowing rollout for all categories of those eligible at this time.

Local school district leaders who have chosen to return to in-person learning after bouncing back and forth between hybrid and virtual schedules since holiday breaks say they are comfortable with doing so because the region is seeing lower COVID cases in comparison to the rest of the state.

“I have to say, we have been very thankful that there have been relatively few disease transmission events within our schools throughout Southwest Virginia. Now, we have had some small clusters. It has primarily been from association outside of the workplace and outside of the school,” said Dr. Karen Shelton, director of the Mount Rogers Health District.

Shelton added many schools locally have remained in-person or hybrid when around 80 percent of other schools statewide were virtual only.

“We do know that having people congregate every day is a set up for an outbreak,” said Shelton. “We have been very pleased with how diligent our schools have been throughout this pandemic as far as their measures.”

Still, the VEA says even though they want kids to be learning in person, now is not yet the time.

“We have to ensure that we are not just rushing back for the sake of rushing back,” said Fedderman.

Both sides agree, the vaccine is the best defense in getting schools back to normal.

“Having a push to get our school staff vaccinated is a key to being able to safely continue school in our region,” said Shelton.

Even as teachers get the vaccine, Shelton added pandemic precautions in schools are still of utmost importance. This includes mask wearing, social distancing, an emphasis on hand hygiene and staying home when sick.

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