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In-person instruction is vital

I read with great disappointment the recent comments by John Larson, president of the Oregon Education Association, the union representing 44,000 Oregon teachers, in which he discouraged the prompt vaccination of Oregon teachers and opposed returning to in-person instruction even if teachers are vaccinated. This is a startling position from the leader of the teachers whom we entrust with our children’s education.

Over the course of the pandemic it has become clear that, in most cases, online instruction is no substitute for in-person instruction and that many of our students, especially the socially, economically and emotionally vulnerable, are falling further behind. I fear that for many of these students, the trajectory of their lives will be forever altered in a negative way.

There is also ample evidence that in-person instruction can be carried out safely in most circumstances with reasonable attention to infection prevention measures. In light of these observations, many professional societies who advocate for our kids, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, have promoted returning to school as soon as possible.

In my medical training, I was taught to always follow the advice of William Mayo, M.D.: “The best interest of the patient is the only interest to be considered.” I am proud that my profession has strived to adhere to that dictum during the COVID-19 pandemic, oftentimes at significant risk to ourselves. Retreating to Zoom foxholes while our students’ well-being is under fire is not the solution. Now is the moment for teachers to take courage, to put students’ interests first, to rise to the moment and get our kids back in school.

On behalf of many concerned parents, I express gratitude to the teachers and administrators who are advocating for a return to in-person instruction. In so doing, they are acting as heroes to our children, and will be remembered for placing their needs first during this crisis.

Paul Gunn, M.D., lives in Medford.