nation’s changing demographics are at the core of the
controversy concerning the reopening of schools. As people of color
begin to overwhelm the longstanding White majority, swiftly reducing
it to pluralistic status, there is a corresponding effort to
reintroduce the earlier separate-but-equal doctrine to the education
of our school children.
reopening schools dispute at its core is predicated on the view that
low-income children of color, who make up the majority of today’s
public school children and are disproportionately concentrated in our
urban districts, can be used as stalking horses by the corporate
elite to attack teacher unions and to undermine K-12 public
Pringle, president of the National Education Association (NEA) and
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers
(AFT), our country’s largest teacher unions, are deftly
parrying this assault on their respective members and the children
they teach. They understand that the real aim is to continue shifting
public dollars into private hands and to destroy public education as
the primary venue in which to educate U.S. children.
of us are aware that public education, as an institution, did not
exist until after the abolition of slavery after America’s
Civil War. Robert Smalls, a former slave, was
one of the founders of the South Carolina Republican Party and was
dedicated to ensuring proper educational opportunities for all
He served in the South Carolina Legislature (and later in the U.S.
helped to draft the
South Carolina Constitution of 1868 and developed the bill for the
first public education system in South Carolina for all children
irrespective of race. That legislation became a model for the nation.
South Carolina was majority Black and African American elected
officials were a powerful bloc in the state legislature.
that time, there have been ongoing attempts to undercut public
education as students of color have become its predominant groups.
These students have been championed by teacher unions and organized
labor who are accused of only advocating for the benefit of their
members. Reopening schools is just the latest Trojan horse used
toward that end.
within the larger political scheme of unparalleled demographic
change, there is little appetite to provide the necessary funding,
during this pandemic, to support the in-person education of these
students in a safe and healthy way. They are buffeted by escalating
poverty, neighborhood and family trauma, and the lack of urgently
needed social resources.
1896, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered a landmark decision, Plessy
upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation laws for public
facilities as long as the segregated facilities were equal in quality
ruled against Homer Plessy, of mixed-race heritage, who was
considered Black, “
… who argued
that the state law which required the East Louisiana Railroad to
segregate trains had denied him his rights under the Thirteenth and
Fourteenth amendments of the United States Constitution, which
provided for equal treatment under the law.”
sixty years would pass before the Supreme Court ruled (9-0) that
under the Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in its Brown
v. Board of Education
judgment in 1954. The ‘separate
doctrine adopted in Plessy
which was rarely, if ever, fairly implemented, had proven to be a
that time, 33 states have advanced 165 separate bills to impede the
ability of U.S. ethnic minority voters to participate in upcoming
local, state, and national elections so as to enhance Republicans’
ability to win electoral offices.
the reopening schools’ disagreement is also a way to redirect
financial resources in terms of funding for contact tracing when
infections ensue, quarantining when exposure occurs, masking, social
distancing, keeping facilities clean, and improvement in ventilation
systems (which is costly in the dilapidated buildings where poor
children of color are overly located in many districts) as
recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Although
President Biden has promised financial resources for these proposals,
they are unlikely to be sufficient as the gravity of this situation
is not entirely known and is unlikely to reach the schools in
greatest distress in a quick and orderly manner. The bottom line is
that reopening schools is ensnared in a political, racial, and
demographic vortex that is not in the best health and safety
interests of students and their teachers.