I don’t know if y’all have noticed, but nobody knows what the hell they’re doing with this school reopening thing. And look, I don’t envy the parents, school districts or leaders having to make these decisions around whether they’ll send their kids back to actual school buildings and how to even open those doors because this is definitely some funky shit to figure out.
The receipts from the past few months read that e-learning was a hot ass mess. And as a random aside, given our federal governments’ failure to control or even accept the facts around the coronavirus, districts should’ve been proactive in preparing for the possibility of extended distance learning because I don’t trust that much will change in its delivery or engagement but, I digress.
So instead of completely leaning on e-learning, many districts that have tentatively planned for their 2020-2021 academic year plans to include a hybrid model in which students will physically report to school buildings on some days and learn from home on others—and of course that model varies by district.
Well, that sounds good but as most of us know, we’re still in the middle of a deadly pandemic that puts our students, teachers and families at risk.
So, in recent and various conversations with people racking our brains to come up with what could be viable practices for reopening, not only were we drawing blanks for the most part but in every conversation, the underlying theme was—and damn near always is—Black and brown kids and families are going to be screwed—again.
And while that’s always heartbreaking and infuriating, it doesn’t have to be this time.
Black fam, listen up—y’all remember how we went and are still going hard against police brutality and George Floyd’s murder? Well, we need to apply that same pressure to advocating for our students because Black lives definitely matter in education, too. And to take it a step further, I would say our advocacy for their education could be the difference between life and death.
In Chicago, we’ve seen a recent uptick in violence—specifically gun violence. This is nothing new—sadly we make headlines every summer for our ability to act a fool. But, this trend is present nationally and while I’m no researcher or statistician, my gut is telling me that, surface level, our kids are bored, tired of being in the house, and since everything is still halfway closed, they’re kicking it in the streets. And deeper than the surface, we know there are other systemic failures—poor quality of education for Black and brown kids included—that contribute to this violence and act as a gateway for our kids to become victims of those elements that typically plague low-income communities.
So if in May, only 60% of CPS students were logging on for e-learning twice a week, imagine what’s going to happen next year? Fewer kids logging on and more kids in the streets. That’s why we need to fight for our Black students to be at the top of the priority list when it comes to resource and engagement considerations for the upcoming school year.
First, we need to continuously connect the dots between historical and existing racism, oppression and neglect that exacerbate these life-threatening dynamics in our conversations and advocacy. As Charlie Dates said in his tweet below, “There is a direct correlation between limited economics, education, hopelessness and violence.”
That’s why other Black advocates in Chicago and I are calling on our leadership—particularly our Black leadership—to respond to these injustices and really work to close these gaps whose bottoms are dredged in trauma, hopelessness and desperation.
Second, Black parents, students and community members must have a seat and voice at the table in planning these reopenings because we’re the experts on our kids—not these unions, district leaders or anyone else that may have hidden agendas to hijack our kids’ education.
And third, we must demand that if/whenever the coronavirus goes away, our public education will not return to “normal”. Yep, you heard that right.
Normal never did work for us and this perception of equality and equity is false. It’s evident in the opportunity gaps between white and Black students, a pervasive school-to-prison pipeline, the over-diagnosis of our kids as special needs and so many other traps. Recognize that for the longest, Black lives and minds haven’t mattered but Black dollars have—especially when it comes to per-pupil funding—and we can no longer stand for these systems thriving at the expense of Black lives.
I realize that I sometimes have a way of making these things sound easy. Make no mistake, they aren’t—and this fight for meaningful inclusion of our voices in education hasn’t been and won’t be easy. We need to fight to be part of these reopening conversations because our kids deserve to return to safe schools. And if they’re learning from home in the fall, they need distance learning plans that will keep them engaged and excelling.
It’s absolutely necessary and again—a matter of life and death.
Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and ...