Calls to reopen classrooms grow as teachers get vaccinated

Confirmed infections have topped 22.8 million

Pre-kindergarten teacher Sarah McCarthy works with a student at Dawes Elementary in Chicago, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Chicago Public Schools students began their return to the classroom Monday as school doors opened to thousands of pre-kindergarten and some special education students after going remote last March due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, Pool)
Pre-kindergarten teacher Sarah McCarthy works with a student at Dawes Elementary in Chicago, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Chicago Public Schools students began their return to the classroom Monday as school doors opened to thousands of pre-kindergarten and some special education students after going remote last March due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, Pool) (Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times)

State leaders around the U.S. are increasingly pushing for schools to reopen this winter — pressuring them, even — as teachers begin to gain access to the vaccine against the raging pandemic.

Ohio's governor offered to give vaccinations to teachers at the start of February, provided their school districts agree to resume at least some in-person instruction by March 1. In Arizona, where teachers began receiving shots this week, the governor warned schools that he expects students back in the classroom despite objections from top education officials and the highest COVID-19 diagnosis rate in the nation over the past week.

“We will not be funding empty seats or allowing schools to remain in a perpetual state of closure,” said Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. “Children still need to learn, even in a pandemic.”

Leaders of Arizona’s major hospitals disagreed with the governor's position, noting at a news conference Wednesday that the state is teetering on the brink of having to ration life-saving care.

“We understand that learning and bringing our children together is very important,” said Dr. Michael White of Valleywise Health. “But at this time with uncontrolled spread of the virus, we need to do things that we know will reduce the chance that the virus will spread and that is not gathering with people we don’t live with.”

The U.S. recorded an all-time, one-day high of 4,327 deaths on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The nation’s overall death toll from COVID-19 has topped 380,000, closing in fast on the number of Americans killed in World War II. Confirmed infections have reached about 23 million.

President-elect Joe Biden initially pledged to reopen a majority of the nation’s schools in his first 100 days but recently revised the goal to most of the country’s K-8 schools. He has said teachers should be eligible for vaccinations as soon as possible after those who are at highest risk.

Some states aren’t waiting, but the process can be scattershot.