Nyssa community reacts to vaccine mandate for teachers

A second-grader in Clarissa Helliwell’s Dual Language Program classroom at Nyssa Elementary School works on her selfie art project on the first day of the school year, Monday, Aug. 23. (The Enterprise/AUSTIN JOHNSON)

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NYSSA – Nyssa’s Back to School Night unfolded mere hours after Gov. Kate Brown announced that teachers, staff and school volunteers will now have to be vaccinated against Covid or risk losing their positions. 

The governor set a deadline of Oct. 18, or six weeks after FDA approval, whichever is later, for compliance. 

At Nyssa Elementary School, however, the mood on Thursday, Aug. 19, was light as families accompanied their students to each classroom where they will study. Students stood shyly, some weighted down by backpacks, as parents introduced themselves to teachers and stood to chat.  

When asked about his views on the vaccine, Larry Moore, Nyssa teachers union representative and third-grade dual language English teacher, said that despite having taken the vaccine himself, he disagreed with the mandate. 

“I always understood that it’s our civil rights to decide what goes in and out of our bodies,” he said. “I don’t care if a person decides not to get the vaccine, but I sure don’t like that (the governor) can mandate it.” 

Moore said he felt that for the past year, teachers were sometimes unfairly maligned in the community for simply doing what they were told. He said that he and his colleagues had adapted to teaching at home and then to teaching back at school with Covid protocols all because they had been asked to by the state. 

“That’s really sticky,” said Chris Mendez, third-grade dual language Spanish teacher, when asked his opinion on the vaccine mandate. “I’m glad that our superintendent is looking into options for those people who can opt out if they have a religious preference.”

Nyssa Superintendent Darren Johnson Thursday said in an email to all staff that “we will work diligently to meet (staff) needs and make sure that everyone continues their employment with the Nyssa School District.” 

Vale School District Superintendent Alisha McBride echoed similar sentiments in comments to her staff, while Ontario’s communications following the governor’s announcement were slightly more firm in their support of the mandate and its logic, and Adrian Superintendent Kevin Purnell said the mood amongst his staff was “frustrated, but generally okay.”

Mendez said that he didn’t necessarily like the mask mandate, but that his students were resilient and would adapt as needed. 

“I would have liked the kids to stop using masks,” said Maribel Trinidad, a parent. “Hopefully they come to school all year.”

Trinidad said it was important for students to be in school because they pay more attention and have more opportunities for socialization with other children. 

In regard to the new vaccine mandate, Trinidad said that “it’s their decision.” 

“That’s fine, but they won’t be safe anyway,” she said, referring to the small possibility of breakthrough cases with the vaccine. 

Steve Morrison, fifth-grade dual language Spanish teacher, said that he didn’t plan to get vaccinated. 

“My main reason is lack of confidence,” he said. “If it was something that was really good and safe, they wouldn’t have to push. I believe the people in our country have the right to choose what they want to do. When they’re forcing something the way they are with this, that tells me that there’s something wrong with it.” 

Morrison said that he was not worried about losing his job because he would claim a religious or medical exemption to the vaccine mandate. 

“The people who make these decisions live far away from here and we don’t have their same problems, and they don’t have our same problems,” Morrison said. “It should be a decision made by the school district, not the government.” 

Clarissa Helliwell, second-grade dual language teacher, said that she didn’t mind wearing a mask at school.

“Hearing about the numbers at the hospitals, my daughter’s a nurse,” she explained. “I don’t need her to be overwhelmed again.”

She said that she had mixed feelings about the vaccine mandate.

“(I) wish everyone would see the benefit so we don’t need a mandate,” she said. “But, like with other vaccines, there are those who will be against any vaccine.”

Antonia Peña, parent of a second grader, said that even though her son didn’t understand why, it was good for students to use a mask “so that they don’t get one another sick.”

When asked if she felt safer sending her son to school knowing that his teachers and the staff would be vaccinated, she said it didn’t matter.

“It’s the same, if they’re vaccinated or unvaccinated,” she said. “For me it’s the same.”

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

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