Staff photo by John Rawlston | Students walk on campus at the McCallie School on Thursday, Apr. 7, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Lots of people are having lots of passionate debate about how this country discovers — as quickly and as safely as possible — what our "next normal" will look like.

Public health experts say the fastest way to reclaim our pre-pandemic life is through herd immunity, or at least 70% of residents being vaccinated against COVID-19.

In Tennessee and Georgia, we are well short of that. But just enough of us are vaccinated, and infections, hospitalizations and deaths are declining to the point that employers large and small are mulling over how to bring employees back to work safely.

K-12 schools and universities are talking the issue over as well. It's a minefield to be sure, balancing individual choice and protecting the community at large.

And that's where we find the McCallie School, which said last week that all students and faculty for the upcoming school year must be vaccinated.

Yes, there are exemptions for health and religious reasons, as well as moral or ethical ones.

This decision has, not surprisingly, received some blowback. Anonymous parents have complained to the website, and an Instagram page called Medical Freedom for McCallie has become a popular spot for discussing the issue.

Among the recent posts was this: "@medical_freedom_for_mccallie does not take a pro- or anti-vaccine position. Our position is solely rooted in the rights and responsibilities of parents to make all medical decisions for their children. These health decisions are highly personal and private matters and should be made without pressure from governments, businesses, and institutions."

That's fine and hard to argue against. Decisions parents make about medical care for their children are deeply personal and private.

But attending McCallie — or any private school or working at a private business — means abiding by someone else's rules, be it the rule to have an all-boys school or a rule that everyone must be vaccinated.

As much as a parent has the right to choose vaccination for their children — or not to — so, too, does McCallie have the right and responsibility to make its campus safe in the best way it determines.

McCallie Headmaster Lee Burns on a YouTube message said that the school has only had one case of COVID-19 in the last month, in large part because a large number of staff and faculty and a majority of age-eligible upper school students had received the vaccine.

He said protocols are still being finalized, but students who did not have the vaccine would very likely "be required to wear a mask and observe social distance on campus."

"Being a member of the McCallie community is a privilege, and with that privilege comes a responsibility," Burns said in his video announcement.

And now it comes with a vaccination requirement, too.

Contact Jay Greeson at

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Jay Greeson