Reopening Schools While Coronavirus Is Still on the Loose Is Ass-Backward

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I swear this country is ass-backward.

In last week’s Senate hearing, Dr. Anthony Fauci—the nation’s leading expert on the coronavirus pandemic—said outright, “… states will face serious consequences if they reopen too soon.”

So putting two and two together, reopening states means reopening schools, which also means putting students at risk of contracting the virus—especially considering the rise in cases of this mystery virus that’s now hitting kids. 

Logically, it would make sense to keep the shutdown in place to minimize the number of people infected by COVID-19, but this week the Centers for Disease Control released guidance for the reopening of schools in the fall and states are all over it. What the hell?

California’s state superintendent, Tony Thurmond, said their schools will most likely reopen for the next academic year and I can see many other states following suit.

Look, I’ve been waiting for the day where there’d be mass and ongoing conversations about public education—but not conversations that, once again, aren’t in the best interest of students, families and teachers. And, I’d bet money that the underlying reason why there’s a push to reopen schools from the government is two-fold: Not only is the system is losing money, but people are also starting to really notice and push back on the inequities. I mean, nothing scares the people in power more than losing money and losing control, as disenfranchised constituents start to fight back.

I don’t even think we have to dig deep into how the public school system is a capitalist industry and students are valued for their per-pupil funding rather than their potential. That’s why there’s an emphasis on filling seats, and consistent failure to address the quality of those seats—depending on your zip code and skin color.

But real talk, this pandemic has unclothed the emperor. With the greater exposure of the disparities that exist in the healthcare and education systems and just how much they impact certain underserved communities, the advocacy and activism game has been getting stronger.

I authored two petitions in the past few months—one highlighting the digital divide with an urge to the FCC to grant all low-income families free internet during Covid-19 and another calling for Biden to expand his newly formed education task force to include grassroots, Black and Latinx parent activists.

Lawsuits have been filed to address school district mistreatment of special needs students in all-out denying them an education during COVID-19.

Michigan just settled the “right to read” lawsuit, where several students from Detroit sued the state over an inadequate education.

And the Washington Post predicts there are many more lawsuits coming down the line from parents who faced discrimination or were denied family leave to care for their children who are out of school.

So with all of this going on and possibly more to come, the public education system is against the ropes, getting the hell beat out of it by its constituents. How do they get out of that corner? Send the kids back to school and shut almost everybody up.

Open the doors, give the kids and teachers masks, and pull the desks six feet apart. That way districts don’t have to provide internet hot spots and laptops to all students, people may not easily notice the differences in efforts made to effectively administer e-learning to all students and the system can continue to underserve, underfund and undereducate marginalized groups behind schoolhouse doors. Things will go back to “normal.”

But as Principal Gregory Goodman said in his tweet, “We can’t re-open and start re-exposing families and communities until our schools are actually safe. We have a lot of work left.”

I agree and I’m taking it a step further to say not only should we not reopen schools until we have this virus under control, but we cannot send Black, Brown, poor or special needs students back to schools that aren’t serving them. Now is the time to reimagine education for those who have suffered in a racist and unjust system.

Three points I want y’all to take from this piece. 

  • First, the government cares more about dollars than American lives. If it were the other way around, we’d see more caution and prolonged restrictions around reopening states. 
  • Second, and again, we have them against the ropes. Now isn’t the time to stop fighting for the things we want and need, nor can we stop applying pressure on their attempts to pacify us with a dream of returning to the way things used to be. 
  • And finally, yes, we have to get the economy back open eventually—the livelihoods and, honestly, the mental health of many citizens are depending on it. But if there are no people to fuel that economy because they’re all sick or passed away from COVID-19, then what’s the point? Be smart and not ass-backward.

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