Safest way to return to classrooms, says Dallas ISD Superintendent
Special to The Dallas Examiner
DALLAS – Not all desks were filled with students during the 2020-21 school year. Education took a different turn when COVID-19 hit North Texas a year ago. In Dallas Independent School District some students opted to learn from home while other classmates eventually returned to in-person instruction. With the help of Parkland Health & Hospital System, Dallas ISD teachers have been receiving COVID-19 vaccinations since March 1 enabling many educators to breathe a sigh of relief as they head back to the classroom.
Noah Lane, 22, a first-grade teacher at Stemmons Elementary, was in the front of the line for the vaccine when teachers became eligible last month. He says COVID-19 hit very close to home. Even though he didn’t test positive for the virus, several of his friends did.
“My grandma got her vaccine early on and I remember asking myself when I would get mine,” Lane said. “I was excited to register when it was our turn. I called everyone when I got my first dose.”
Lane received the Pfizer vaccine and reported no side effects with his first dose but admits he wasn’t too confident of the vaccine when it first became available. Like many, he asked himself, “Is it safe?” He took time to do his research before making his final decision.
Teachers like Lizbeth Melendez, a Pre-K bilingual teacher at Winnetka Elementary, had mixed emotions about returning to campus in October. Melendez was excited to meet her students in-person yet couldn’t help but feel concerned with COVID-19 still active in the community.
“I was nervous about going back to in-school learning,” Melendez said. “I had to teach my students to wear their masks and face shields. It was the new normal.”
The 32-year-old Dallas ISD teacher has done everything she could to protect herself from COVID-19. She followed all the CDC guidelines and believes that’s the reason she didn’t become infected. And, she didn’t think twice when the COVID-19 vaccine became available to teachers in March.
“I signed up the first day it became available and the process was smooth,” Melendez said. “I want to go back to where we were before. It’s not the same having students separated. I want to encourage other teachers to get vaccinated, too.”
Both Lane and Melendez believe access to the vaccine can be a problem for some. They’ve also noticed many people their age think they’re strong enough to fight the virus without the vaccine.
“Many people in my age range are not taking the virus seriously. They’re going to parties and some are getting COVID-19 and dying from it,” Lane said. “I advise people to read up on the vaccine. Read for yourself. The information is out there.”
According to Carolee Estelle, MD, Interim Chief of Infection Prevention at Parkland and Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at UT Southwestern Medical Center, it’s vital to educate people with high quality information.
“We want to help people feel confident about their decision to get vaccinated,” Dr. Estelle said. “One of the misconceptions I frequently hear is that the vaccine will give you COVID-19. In fact, the vaccine does not have the virus in it and cannot give you COVID-19. Another common misunderstanding is that if you’ve already had COVID-19, you don’t need to be vaccinated. That also is not true. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all eligible adults age 16 and up get vaccinated, regardless of whether they have had COVID or not.”
Along with common myths, concern about potential side effects also stops some people from rolling up their sleeves. Melendez said before getting vaccinated her friends were worried about the side effects. According to the CDC, you may have some side effects, which are normal signs that your body is building protection. They may affect your ability to do daily activities but should go away in a few days.
Some common side effects include arm pain, redness, swelling, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea.
“It’s better to be safe,” Melendez said. “After I got my vaccine, I told my friends about my side effects, which were minor with the first dose and then they went ahead and registered for their vaccines.”
Melendez received her second dose on March 27 and reported one side effect, tiredness.
Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa led the district early in March by receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Ellis Davis Field House. For him, this is an important step toward bringing students back to school. Overall, Parkland has administered more than 255,000 vaccine doses since the vaccine became available on Dec. 15, 2020.
“It’s a game-changer because I want everyone to be back in-person at school in August. If we can all do this between now and then, I think we can have a great chance to get back to somewhat normal,” Dr. Hinojosa said. “I think this is the only way we can conquer this very difficult pandemic. It’s all of us working together.”
Individuals can sign up to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by visiting www.parklandhospital.com/covid-19-vaccines. For more information about COVID-19 please visit, www.cdc.gov or www.dallascounty.org/covid-19