A new COVID-19 strain is more contagious than ever. The Trump administration’s sheer neglect in the face of this deadly pandemic is enraging. Federal inaction has cost lives, and we are far from getting back to daily normal life. Schools are no exception to this situation. Given the plans to offer vaccines to teachers over the next several weeks, it does not make sense now to force children and staff back into the building.
Students, parents and teachers are fearing for their lives. In Lubbock, Texas, one district’s infection rates soared with reopening. In Chicago, teachers who chose to work remotely instead of entering buildings were locked out of their accounts, preventing them from teaching and helping students learn. Parents slammed the district’s decision to lock teachers out, citing the disrupted learning for students. Nurses are pleading with the mayor to delay reopening, especially with a vaccine on the horizon.
Nonetheless, our city is catering to the minority of parents who clamor for this, white parents specifically. In the first week of school where parents were given the option to send their children back, less than 20% of eligible students returned for in-person instruction. This number is half of what the district anticipated returning last month.
As the reopening debate gets hotter, we are seeing a new breed of “nice white parents” emerge. The parents who wished to open school buildings are disproportionately white. In meeting after meeting, I have witnessed Black and Latinx parents voice concerns. We saw these concerns in August and are now seeing them nationwide.
The biggest advocates for opening schools repeatedly point to Dr. Fauci’s assertion that we should be pushing for children to be in schools “as best we possibly can.” They cite research like a late December study showing that schools do not increase transmission rates. But those who share this viewpoint overlook two key factors.
First, the schools aren’t super-spreaders argument fails to explain the relationship between community positivity rates and schools. Those of us who argue in favor of delaying reopening aren’t arguing with Fauci’s claim that keeping schools open should be a top priority. But the World Health Organization points out that school positivity rates mirror those of the community. When a community has high rates of Covid-19, the risk of school outbreaks rises. When schools are in communities with high case rates, preventive and protective measures in schools become all the more important.
Second, many schools are not adequately equipped to take all the necessary preventive and protective measures. Here in Chicago, I have spoken with scores of teachers who do not have adequate HVAC systems in their buildings. Some teachers were given air purifiers that only cover 500 square feet, vastly smaller than most classrooms. An independent arbitrator ruled that schools in Chicago were not safe for school clerks and other employees.
Thus, while it may be appropriate to have hybrid, or even fully in-person instruction in more affluent communities with fewer cases per capita, if we open schools in communities with higher positivity rates, especially when those schools are not adequately supplied with protective measures, the risk to staff, students and families is much higher. My own school is in the zip code of the highest positivity rate in the state.
I do not want to risk my students’ lives or my own.
Additionally, remote learning is not a lost cause! My coworkers and I have been working harder than ever to deliver high quality instruction to our students. Not only is the “learning loss” argument incredibly flawed, but also I and other teachers are still holding all students to the highest expectations. Students can still learn remotely and have an engaging, rigorous curriculum. As an instructor, that is what I’m doing for my students, including focusing on research-based student choice activities. As a parent, that is what I am witnessing for my own children.
Those who are arguing that schools should reopen are claiming teachers are selfish. Are we really at a point where not wanting our students to die, and not wanting to die ourselves, is a point of debate? This is completely absurd. We are putting the voices of white parents above Black and brown parents, as well as teachers and all school staff, including disproportionately women of color. Teachers such as Zelene Blancas have needlessly perished.
Teaching and learning are my passions. But in-person school while the pandemic continues to rage unchecked makes no sense. As a parent, I am terrified for the life of my child. As a teacher, I fear for my own life and the lives of my students and their families. I can’t teach from the grave, nor can kids learn from there. If we do not speak up, nice white parents will get us killed.