For years, I was one of "those" parents. As co-president of my daughter’s elementary school Parent Association, I’d spend my early mornings knocking on classroom doors, trying to fulfill a teacher's wish list, while filling my evenings with planning fundraisers and enrichment programs. I was in awe of the work our teachers did — and the lengths to which they went to educate and care for our children.
Whenever I had the chance, I’d thank them for all they were doing.
Of the hundreds of hours I spent in that Queens school building, I remember one particular moment vividly. A mentally ill man apparently was on the roof of a building next door, and the school went into an emergency lockdown. Teachers locked their classroom doors, kept their children hidden, and tried to comfort and calm them while police helicopters hovered overhead. I’ve no doubt the teachers were frightened and uncertain. But they did what they had to do to keep their charges safe. The bizarre situation ended without incident, but what stood out to me after it was over was just how much we parents depend on our children’s teachers to protect them.
Now, here we are again — parents across Long Island, New York City and beyond — depending on teachers and school staff to protect our vulnerable children, to keep them safe from a vicious intruder. Thankfully, most have stepped up to the challenge.
This week, a COVID-19 vaccine mandate took effect for any adult in any New York City public school building. Many of those workers live in Nassau and Suffolk counties — and Long Island schools have been carefully watching the city's experience.
In late August, when Mayor Bill de Blasio first announced the requirement, city officials said at least 63% of school employees were vaccinated. Earlier this week, that number was up to 95%. For teachers, the percentage was even higher — 97%.
And Tuesday, with the mandate in place: 100%.
Over the last several weeks, tens of thousands of shots went into the arms of city teachers, school aides, bus drivers, security guards, custodial staff, paraprofessionals and administrators. With each one, another school employee protected another student, including the hundreds of thousands of kids still too young to receive the vaccine. Some staff may have had concerns, doubts or even fears. But that didn't stop them from doing their jobs.
The stunning vaccination rate climb told a mandate success story. And while some employees may have gotten the shot just to keep their jobs, ultimately, the end result is the same: Every person who interacts with our city children during the school day now is vaccinated. That, in turn, reduces significantly the likelihood those children will become another COVID-19 statistic.
Thousands of educators still refuse to get the vaccine. They've made a conscious choice to put politics, fear and misinformation over the kids they always claimed to put first. They have called themselves victims. But they’re not victims. They’re not heroes. And now, in city schools, at least, they’re not teachers, either. They still have the chance to return to the classroom, if they do the right thing and get the shot.
Teachers on Long Island still have a testing option. But every parent deserves the same reassurance, that their children's teachers are keeping them safe.
My daughter is now a vaccinated teenager. But it's still enormously comforting to know that as of this week, every one of her teachers is vaccinated, too.
And I can again thank them — for all they do.
Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.