Advocating for our children during COVID-19 pandemic doesn't mean parents are anti-vax

·3 min read

They used to say, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” But when it comes to parents, it seems the new strategy is, “If you can’t beat them, gaslight them.”

It started this summer when American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told the American public that, no, teachers unions weren’t responsible for keeping children locked out of the classroom for the 2020-21 school year. In fact, she laughably said, they were the champions working to reopen classrooms.

You don’t have to be a parent of a child who lost a year, or more, of school to see through this attempt to recast the truth.

People march against COVID-19 mandates at a rally Sept. 13 in New York City.
People march against COVID-19 mandates at a rally Sept. 13 in New York City.

Now, influential voices from Attorney General Merrick Garland, to prominent journalists, to the association representing our community school boards would have you believe parents like me are dangerous domestic terrorists or anti-vaxxers simply because we are doing what parents have always done: standing up and advocating for our children – the only group who cannot defend themselves.

This week, I drove 500 miles from my home in Southern California to our state Capitol in Sacramento to march alongside thousands of other parents and their children who don’t believe Gov. Gavin Newsom should force children to receive a new vaccine for a virus known to have significantly lower impact on their health just so they can access the education they’re guaranteed by our state constitution.

For my participation in this walkout, people will say I’m anti-vax or a problematic parent.

Pfizer files for emergency use of COVID vaccine for kids 5-11
Pfizer files for emergency use of COVID vaccine for kids 5-11

But am I these things? Are the growing number of parents who attend school board meetings to ask why children are given access to books detailing graphic sexual situations akin to domestic terrorists? Is challenging an elected official on why our children are being taught critical race theory really spewing hate speech?

Of course not.

'We parents have been awakened'

I, like so many parents who take issue with Newsom’s first-in-the-nation mandate, believe in vaccine science. My children are up-to-date on their vaccines. No government or mandate could cause me to care more about the health and safety of my children than my own motherly instincts, and that hasn’t changed with COVID-19. Standing up for parental choice doesn’t make me anti-vax, just as sticking this label on me doesn’t make me anti-vax.

Children play outside at an Open Door Preschools location. All staff at Open Door are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Children play outside at an Open Door Preschools location. All staff at Open Door are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

I, like so many parents who attend my local school board meetings and speak out during public comment, respect the officials elected to represent my community, even when I disagree with them. I even ran for school board myself. Providing comments that make politicians feel uncomfortable, or demanding parents have a voice in our representative government doesn’t make me a dangerous domestic terrorist, and speaking out against a school board does not make me guilty of hate speech.

Yet, more and more, we parents are painted in an unfavorable light in a growing attempt to silence our voices. This movement to slap labels – however inaccurate – on us is the latest attempt to limit our rights as parents.

Politicians in Sacramento want to strip us of our ability to exempt our children from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine on religious and personal grounds. The new contract governing the state’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, prevents parents from recording what a teacher is saying to their children unless the teacher says it’s OK. And earlier this year, Newsom enacted a new law barring parents from accessing certain health care information about their kids.

Celeste Fiehler
Celeste Fiehler

We parents have been awakened this past year and a half. We’re not going to school board meetings to flip podiums or cause harm to our elected officials. We’re not skipping out on polio or whooping cough vaccines. But we aren’t going away, either.

Call us what you will, try to trick the country into thinking there’s something wrong with us for protecting our kids. That won’t make it true, and that won’t stop us.

Celeste Fiehler is the deputy director of ParentUnion.org and a mother of five children, including three currently enrolled in public schools in the Coachella Valley in Southern California.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID vaccine for kids: Parents must demand a voice in debate