Using the word “experimenting” when it comes to opening schools is not comforting to parents and teachers. For teachers, it’s like rubbing salt in a wound. What this pandemic has brought to light are the past inequities of public education, inequities that have been all about dismantling America’s public schools. It has included the disregard and disrespect of professional teachers who hold schools together.
Suddenly it’s important to have clean air to contain the virus. Crumbling facilities with poor ventilation systems have always made air questionable for the children and teachers in poor schools. I’m remembering past students who dealt with allergies and asthma, who’d come to school ill and struggle to learn. Their test scores obviously affected my school’s standardized testing performance. Who listened then?
I’ve been in a modern school that likely practiced deferred maintenance to save money. The classrooms had large intake valves in the ceilings surrounded by dust. The same school lacked soap in the restroom during flu season. Suddenly, America’s schools are supposed to be immaculate to ward off the virus.
Teachers have been mocked by politicians and reformers for years when they begged to have class sizes lowered. Now the huge numbers of students and overcrowded classrooms make social distancing difficult in the best of schools.
Then there’s all the talk about the importance of outdoor learning. What kind of playgrounds are left in those poor schools that denied recess to children for years?
If any place is safe to open its schools, it might be New York. They’ve flattened the curve and seem to be climbing out of the Covid-19 black hole. But reading The New York Times report and listening to teachers and staff that work in those schools raises troubling questions. No one wants to feel like a Guinea pig. Teachers and students deserve better.
There’s a disconnect with what doctors, epidemiologists and other public health experts understand about schools, when they say, as they always do, that safety precautions must be in place.
I’m wondering if any of them have visited schools to better understand the problems with safety?
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, said reopening the schools in New York was a bit of a social experiment or trial run, but added that the odds of success were good.
In many respects, unfortunately, though this may sound a little scary and harsh—I don’t mean it to be that way—is that you’re going to actually be part of the experiment of the learning curve of what we need to know. Remember, early on when we shut down the country as it were, the schools were shut down, so we don’t know the full impact, we don’t have the total database of knowing what there is to expect.
There are problems with this kind of thinking, along with the guilting placed on teachers to ensure that poor kids get fed and avoid unsafe homes.
Where were the leaders of this nation when it came to solving those problems before Covid-19? While schools should be caring and compassionate and provide services to poor children, who fixed the schools to make them more accommodating before the virus?
The talk from the media and America’s leaders disparaging schools with the attempt to privatize them has made them what they are. It has built distrust in Americans who don’t want to spend a nickel on public education. I’ve read some of the harshest comments imaginable by those who hate providing warm meals to poor children in their schools.
Across the country, education reformers and leaders who cheered school competition now face a virus against which they can’t compete, and they’re expecting teachers and children to carry the burden and make sacrifices for their choices and mistakes.
Last week, after the summer break was almost over, New York City leaders decided their school ventilation systems needed work.
What’s sad is that teachers shouldn’t have ever had to beg and plead for this to take place. A nation invested in its schools, a people that cared about its children, would never have allowed this and all the other problems become issues to begin with. They would have always invested in great public schools.
Perhaps if anything good can come from this virus, it will be a renewed belief about the importance of a robust public school system for America.
Roni Caryn Rabin and Apoorva Mandavilli. New York Is Positioned to Reopen Schools Safely, Health Experts Say. The New York Times. August 7, 2020.
Madeline Will. Anthony Fauci to Teachers: You’ll Be ‘Part of the Experiment’ in Reopening Schools. Education Week. July 28, 2020.
Michael Elsen-Rooney. NYC takes on big challenge updating school ventilation systems as reopening looms. The New York Times. August 9, 2020.