How Coronavirus Could Impact Our Most Vulnerable Students

Mar 11, 2020 12:00:00 AM


The coronavirus is here in America and it is spreading. Around the world in countries such as Italy and China, cases and death rates are rapidly increasing and lockdowns are underway. We’re hopefully a long away from these conditions, yet it would be foolish to be unprepared for the worst that may still come. It will be even more reckless if we continue to buy cheap flights, make ill-advised jokes on Twitter, and fight over toilet paper, rather than approach this possible endemic with the most deliberate precision and with those in mind who will be most affected by it. 

Concerns and paranoia over the coronavirus are already making a huge impact on our lives. The Dow had its largest drop since 2008, oil prices have plunged, and events around the country are being canceled. Colleges are moving towards online classes and K-12 school districts are beginning to shutdown. As these mitigations increase with the spread of the virus, the consequences of these responses will be felt the hardest for our most vulnerable citizens. 

As a teacher in Baltimore, I can’t help not to see the potential consequences that my students and their families will suffer as this disease worsens. The White House Coronavirus Task Force recently put out guidance in regards to what Americans can do to safeguard themselves and help limit the spread of the virus.

Tips for “keeping the school safe” include simple steps that most people wouldn’t think twice about such as hand washing and disinfecting surfaces. But what if your school doesn’t have hot water and soap or hand sanitizer and disinfectants?

Further recommendations to “keep the home safe” include limiting interactions with senior citizens or those with underlying conditions. [pullquote position="right"]How many children in lower-class homes live with or only with, elderly family members who are the most at-risk?[/pullquote]

Proposals to shut down schools are running rampant as a well-meaning response, typically made by those shielded from some of the worst consequences associated with such actions. Lower-income students who receive two free meals a day may risk losing out on their only two meals a day and despite valiant efforts made by teachers and others, children will still go hungry

While online school options are being offered as a substitute for districts across the country, not all students have access to technology or the internet at home. Not all students have tutors or a parent who can help them from home, some students will have to become the parent of their home to their younger siblings. For our most at-risk students who are often grade levels behind their more affluent peers, can we really afford to let them miss out on more school? 

What about the economic impact on these homes? In a recent thread, NYT Contributor Rachel Swarns lays out the economic disparities, asking questions on behalf of those who can’t afford to live in an economy heavily impacted by the coronavirus scare. She asks questions such as, “Who can work from home and still receive a paycheck? Who can stock up on medicines and extra food?” Unfortunately, many families of students in our poorest schools simply can not. What will we do for them? 

In the coming weeks and months, our lives may begin to look drastically different. For our most disadvantaged families, coronavirus and the consequences of our responses will have its greatest effect. [pullquote]We must provide a strengthened safety net for these families who will need immediate relief. [/pullquote]

In Italy, where death tolls are climbing, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in an address to his country, “We all must give something up for the good of Italy. We have to do it now.” It is time for the citizens of our country to do the same and prepare to give up something for our most vulnerable.

Ryan Hooper

Ryan Hooper is a 7th grade teacher in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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