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Vaccinating teachers first is the right decision

The return to in-person instruction for Medford public schools will come as a welcome relief to many parents who have been juggling work schedules with monitoring their children’s remote learning. It may come with apprehension for some parents, and for teachers who are wary of risking infection if they return to the classroom. But there is reason for all those groups to be confident that school officials are doing everything they can to make the transition as smooth and as safe as possible.

Meanwhile, many senior citizens are voicing frustration that their eligibility for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine has been delayed in favor of educators. That is understandable, but if all goes well their shots will be delayed by only a few weeks depending on their age.

Medford schools will resume in-person instruction for kindergartners and first-graders four days a week starting Feb. 22, with second- and third-graders following Feb. 25. Grades four through six will start a hybrid schedule March 1, attending full days either Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday. Middle- and high-schoolers will start March 29, also on a hybrid schedule.

Any families who are uncomfortable with returning are being offered the option of continuing remote learning through the Medford Online Academy, so no one will be forced to return to a classroom if they do not want to.

There is consideration built in for teachers, too. After consulting with teachers, Medford administrators decided not to ask them to “room and Zoom” — teach a class of in-person students while trying to keep remote students involved simultaneously.

That sounds to us like a setup that is doomed to fail — shortchanging both groups of students in an attempt to meet everyone’s needs. The district deserves credit for listening to teachers.

The other good news for teachers is Gov. Kate Brown’s decision to prioritize vaccinations for educators along with medical workers — a change from federal guidelines that call for seniors to be next in line after health-care personnel. The governor has taken heat for that decision, but it was really the only option once the state decided to begin reopening schools and then discovered that promised vaccine supplies from the federal government would not be forthcoming.

Brown pointed out Friday that immunizing all seniors first while delaying shots for teachers would prevent schools from reopening this year. Reversing the priority allows schools to begin to reopen while delaying shots for seniors for a matter of a few weeks.

Seniors are not being abandoned, they’re just being asked to wait until teachers can be immunized. Educators began receiving shots Thursday at the Expo. Seniors 80 and over will be eligible Feb. 8. Those 70-79 will be eligible starting Feb. 28, and those 65-69 on March 7. Seniors living in care facilities already have been receiving vaccines.

All of this depends on vaccine supplies over which state officials have no control. In an ideal world, everyone would be able to line up for a shot now, regardless of age or underlying health conditions. But that isn’t possible, and government and public health officials are trying to make the best of a bad situation.

The state’s own vaccine rollout planning has been less than satisfactory, but a new sense of urgency seems to be accelerating the distribution of the doses the state does have on hand. State officials predict 80% of seniors will be vaccinated by the first week in May. By that time, the next generation of Oregonians should be back at their desks at least part of the time, and that’s cause for celebration.