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Teachers have a variety of opinions on whether vaccines will make it easier for them to return to classrooms.

SUBMITTED PHOTO: RACHAEL RODRIGUE - Rachael Rodrigue, a first-grade teacher at Grant Watts Elementary in Scappoose, is looking forward to kids returning to classrooms.Although there is no definitive word from Salem, educators are expected to be next in line to get a coronavirus vaccine. It's just not precisely clear when that will happen.

As teachers in the Scappoose and St. Helens School Districts await word, there appears to be a wide range of opinions now that Gov. Kate Brown has allowed districts to decide when to reopen schools to in-person learning.

Rachael Rodrigue teaches first grade at Grant Watts Elementary School in Scappoose. When schools start to reopen, it is expected the youngest of students would be the first to attend.

"Just like anything, there are very mixed feelings," Rodrigue said. "When I became a teacher, it was not to do this. This isn't really what I had dreamed to do as a teacher. My heart and soul is in that classroom with students."

Rodrigue continued, "But on the flip side, safety just has to come first. I don't want to skip any steps. I want to make sure that we are checking our safety boxes, so that when we go back, we can stay back."

Bryan Wilkins teaches music at Otto Petersen Elementary School in Scappoose.

"We miss seeing our kids," Wilkins said. "We love working with kids. That's been our passion, and we want to do that as soon as it's safe to do so."

Once vaccinations are available for teachers, Wilkins said, "It's a really encouraging step that that level of protection is going to be available to staff. ... I think that's going to be a really powerful tool to help protect staff."

Looking ahead, Wilkins said, "I am always hopeful and am always going to continue to proceed with a positive attitude, because we want our kids to get the best possible education."

Over at Scappoose High School, Mark Sprenger teaches high school math and is also bargaining and grievance chair for the Scappoose Education Association.

In his union role, Sprenger constantly hears opinions from other teachers.

"I'm hearing a full gamut of things," Sprenger said. "I know that we all want to be back in the classroom with students, but we also want to be back in the classroom when it's safe to do so."

Sprenger said, "I think that we just have to make sure that, if we do go back, prior to vaccinations, that we have really good protocols and procedures in place."

While large-scale vaccine trials have shown both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that received emergency use authorization last month to be highly effective at preventing infection, it's less clear whether it keeps people who have been immunized from spreading the coronavirus.

"Just because you're vaccinated doesn't necessarily mean it's safe to be just walking around with no mask," Sprenger pointed out.

At St. Helens High School, Keith Meeuwsen teaches civics, European history and U.S. History. He is also president of the St. Helens Education Association.

"We did a survey to try to figure out what teachers thought of it all," Meeuwsen said. "We certainly have a group of teachers who are ready to come back tomorrow. And we certainly have a group of teachers who are really very nervous about coming back at all until they have been vaccinated."

Meeuwsen explained, "They're really concerned about them getting it or spreading it to their loved ones. I think you have the whole spectrum of teachers out there, and different degrees of comfort and no comfort."

Meeuwsen recalled one teacher who voiced concerns.

"I had a teacher today who came in," he said. "She was very concerned about going back, saying, 'I'm an older teacher and I have no desire running into kids who are not taking any precautions.'"

According to Meeuwsen, some teachers don't want to get a vaccine. That's been a running issue among frontline healthcare workers in several areas across the United States since the vaccine rollout began, according to multiple reports. While most are eager to be vaccinated and receive protection against COVID-19, others are wary, despite the results of the vaccine trials and federal regulators' favorable reviews.

"We're all over the place on how we're going to get back into school," Meeuwsen said. "Everyone has their own opinion. That's their right to have an opinion."

Looking ahead, Sprenger said, "We all want to be back to some sort of normalcy. I just think that we just don't want to rush into that and make rash decisions until we have proper procedures and protocols in place.

"You just can't have a mistake. A mistake can cost somebody a life."


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