A few weeks ago, I watched my good friend’s nephew jump and tussle around on a trampoline with his friends at his eighth birthday party. As nice as it was to see kids actually being able to have fun outside again, I thought to myself, “Ain’t no way in hell schools are going to be able to make students practice social distancing.”
I’m not a parent, so I can’t imagine how difficult it is to be sheltering in place all day and night with a young person who is full of energy—probably constantly asking random and awkward questions and throwing bratty temper tantrums here and there because hell, they’re sick of being stuck in the house with y’all, too.
And I also haven’t had to experience the struggle of trying to juggle work, e-learning and all other responsibilities that come with taking care of a family. So I understand why many parents may be itching to send their kids back to school.
But parents—particularly Black parents in communities that have been hit hardest by COVID-19—before y’all get too excited to scratch that itch, ask yourself a few questions. Why are Trump and Betsy so anxious to send your kids back to school when the coronavirus clearly isn’t under control? Will it be safe/worth the risk, especially in communities already lacking basic resources? And, what other alternatives are available and what should we be investing in for the future?
In the past few days, Donald Trump and the U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, have made statements demanding that kids go back to school in the fall. In fact, y’all president has threatened to cut federal funding—which he actually cannot do—if schools don’t reopen.
Now the answer to the question of why Trump and Betsy are thirsty for your kids to go back to school isn’t that deep. Aside from the fact that they are willfully ignoring science and millions of Americans have already contracted coronavirus with predictions of those numbers growing, they only care about the economy getting back to “normal” (i.e. our money). Not your health, the health of your kids or their safety in returning to school—which is also why Trump is bitching about the CDC guidance for reopening schools being too tough and expensive.
I mean, who’s really surprised by their disregard for our lives? Betsy’s been useless as the Secretary of Education, mainly protecting the interests of the “elite” while simultaneously removing protections for the marginalized, and Trump said Black Lives Matter is a hate symbol (but also said flying the confederate flag was freedom of speech) which translates to “Black lives don’t matter”.
And haven’t we all seen and heard stories of teachers having to supply their own classrooms because schools don’t or can’t? Haven’t some of y’all parents supported that effort after receiving that school supply list at the opening of the year? So what makes y’all think the government is going to do their due diligence in ensuring masks, hand sanitizer and thermometers are on deck when they don’t even care about equitably funding education? Hell, most schools in Black communities don’t even have nurses because schools in our communities are underfunded and can’t afford to pay for that staffing. So who’s going to be responsible for assessing the health of students who may get sick at school? Give that burden to the teachers, too?
So, I know y’all are already stuck between a rock and a hard place, ready to snatch your edges and put your kids up for adoption. But maybe the struggle is worth enduring a little while longer to demand what our kids really need in returning to school. And if those demands aren’t met, to look into other options.
First y’all have to demand that there’s transparency in reopening plans and that parents have a voice in that process, as the National Parents Union has with their Family Bill of Rights.
Second—and beyond COVID-19—we (because I’m in this fight, too) have to keep demanding equity, equality and justice for our Black kids in the public school system because they cannot and should not return to schools with the burdens of post-coronavirus failures or pre-coronavirus racism on their shoulders.
And while we’re working on those, let’s not forget to lean on our communities for resources and alternatives.
There are more and more homeschooling options on the scene. This could be an opportunity to get churches and nonprofit organizations to offer their spaces as academic centers, creating environments more conducive for social distancing and smaller group learning. And with all of the disparities and racism we’re seeing, this could be a time to rebuild our own freedom schools and reimagine education for Black students outside of the traditional system.
Personally, I’m tired of the dismissal of our lives while this country’s leaders are banking on us falling for the okey doke. They know we can’t afford to hire nannies to take care of our kids while we go to work, and they add pressure by limiting our options and access to healthcare and education (because the coronavirus e-learning was trash). They’re hoping those hardest hit communities—the ones that make the economy go round—are so anxious to get our kids back to school to alleviate all of these pressures, they can force us to “get back to normal”.
I’m asking that you sacrifice the comfort of what we knew as normalcy—a normalcy that never worked for us—and fight for your and our kids’ health, safety and quality education in returning to schools.