AS AN EDUCATOR for 25 years, I learned firsthand the role that consistent attendance plays in students’ academic success. When I read in the Register Star in September that 74 Covid cases had been reported across the six Columbia County school districts since the start of the academic year, I formed an outreach team with the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement (CCSM) to help immigrant parents vaccinate their children.
The CCSM had already developed relationships with immigrant families by setting up food pantries, starting a Mutual Aid Fund, and helping with the Excluded Workers Fund. Because of these relationships we were in a unique position to help more immigrant families in the community get vaccinated, protecting immigrant children’s health and education.
As we made calls, we learned about barriers preventing immigrant parents from vaccinating their children; and parents told us they saw getting everyone vaccinated as the key to protecting their kids, allowing them to stay in school and to consistently learn.
Through our outreach we helped dispel misinformation. Some immigrant parents were hesitant because they thought that they were going to have to pay or they were scared that they might be asked for insurance cards or other identification that they didn’t have.
Many wanted to get their children vaccinated, but they were worried about possible side effects. They needed reassurance from someone they trusted.
CCSM helped by making appointments for parents online and by meeting them at the local pharmacy. Our volunteers assisted with paperwork and were ready to address questions and concerns and to dispel misinformation.
When vaccines were approved for 5-to-11-year-old children, we called parents to let them know that vaccination clinics would be held at their children’s schools. We provided information and heard parents’ concerns about the impact of the pandemic on their children’s learning.
One parent told us that her daughter had been sent home to quarantine when a classmate tested positive and was asked to quarantine again when a student on her bus tested positive. The parent was concerned about interruptions to her daughter’s education, saying that she felt that her daughter had already lost an entire academic year due to the pandemic and was now struggling with on and off in-person learning.
Another parent reported that her daughter received only one hour of online instruction a day during remote learning. She felt that this was very inadequate and shared that often her daughter lost even that one hour of instruction due to problems with their computer or internet connection.
Several other parents who brought their children to be vaccinated this past week at Department of Health vaccination clinics expressed similar concerns. They said that they wanted to get their children vaccinated to protect them from severe disease, but also so that their children will not have to be quarantined every time a classmate or a bus mate tests positive.
Most parents we spoke with told us that they see getting everyone vaccinated as the only way to protect their children’s health and their education.
According to Jack Mabb, the Department of Health will have other COVID 19 vaccination clinics in schools later this month. We hope that more parents will bring their children to be vaccinated. Increasing the number of vaccinated children and adults in Columbia County will enable us to put an end to the pandemic so that our children can get back to school and learn in a safe and consistent manner.
Juan Flores is a retired educator, a board member of the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement, an Advisory Group Member of Columbia County Community Health Action, and a 30-year Columbia County resident.