carefully following the ongoing demands for in-person education amid
our unstable COVID-19 pandemic, it is becoming abundantly clear that
reopening schools without taking into consideration the complex
factors affecting the health and safety of teachers and students is a
mistake. The continuing inequity in infection rates and the
availability of vaccinations, faced by teachers and people of color,
are still in crisis.
addition, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) persists in issuing
guidelines for reopening schools that are general and are not
predicated on the social and economic realities of low-income
students of color whose families are severely poor and earn less than
$15,000 a year for a family of four (prorated for size).
poverty-stricken students are further disadvantaged because they and
their families frequently live in bubbles of inequality in terms of
health care, employment, overcrowded living quarters (which have
rapidly increased during the coronavirus crisis), food insecurity,
access to personal protective equipment (PPE), and the ability to
adhere to the CDC recommendations of masking, social distancing,
ventilation, hand-washing, disinfecting facilities, and
contact-tracing when COVID-19 exposures do occur.
unsettling is that these so-called best practices are not anchored in
the daily realities and opportunities of students of color who make
up the majority of today’s public school students, nor do they
make the necessary accommodations for schools, teachers, and students
in poor, middle-class, and upper-class neighborhoods. Instead, they
are based on the assumption that all students, and their backgrounds,
are basically the same.
with school nurses, teachers, administrators, counselors,
paraprofessionals, bus drivers, building engineers, and other school
personnel reveal that the lack of attention to the aforementioned
bubble disparities places teachers, students, and other school staff
at significant risk. Thus, teachers and their union leaders are
repeatedly calling for teacher vaccinations before fully reopening
is significant pushback against teachers’ request for this
virus prevention tool as the prevailing mantra is that it is
unnecessary for teachers’ safe return to in-person instruction.
The underlying health conditions of many veteran teachers, who are
also living in homes with elderly parents and/or other family members
with health challenges, are simply being ignored although several
studies show transmissions between school staff members are most
overlooked is the fact that strict adherence to the CDC proposals is
virtually impossible in dilapidated school buildings bereft of the
funding required to bring them up to code. For example, the Camden
City School District (CCSD) received $54.6 million from the state of
New Jersey as part of the $1.2 billion federal CARES Act allocation.
But CCSD Superintendent Katrina McCombs said that “…
these funds will not solve our structural deficit.”
Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers
(AFT), notes that if all students come back, 30 percent more space
would be required to service them. To socially distance properly,
more teachers must be hired. And to maintain teachers’ health
and safety, they need to be vaccinated. These requirements are
summarily pushed aside.
these findings and realities, it would be prudent to pause the mass
reopening of schools until there is a demonstrated commitment to
addressing the continuing structural and economic disparities in our
public schools with more than the ‘happy talk’ of
promising to meet the social and psychological needs of our students
by bringing them back for in-person instruction.
adage has been repeated ad
as a way to exploit the urgent needs of the most economically
disadvantaged students in our public schools who serve as pawns used
to secure advantages and opportunities for their more economically
and socially advantaged peers whose parents, corporate, and political
advocates band together to make that happen.
a result, it is our conclusion that teachers must be vaccinated, and
a plan to reconcile the rampant structural and economic discrepancies
in schools attended by low-income students of color must be put in
place before schools reopen en
factors of concern are: systematic testing of those students and
teachers who return to school, pegging school reopenings and closures
to the ebbs and flows of community infection rates, immediate
prioritization of vaccinations for teachers, and upfront funding for
safely reopening schools in poor communities.
as vaccinations are being rolled out across the nation, the
inequities remain. Despite repeated assurances that communities of
color, which have been ravaged by the coronavirus, will be first in
the queue, Whites continue to be at the head of the line. Native
American populations are at the greatest risk for COVID-19 infections
and deaths, and their reservations are virtual hotspots for community
Biden and Vice President Harris have put forth policies to tackle
these issues, but their efforts are being waylaid at the state and
local levels by both Democrats and Republicans. The leadership of
teachers and their unions presents the best hope of safe and healthy
return to in-person instruction.
efforts have pushed several states to move teachers to the first tier
of those eligible for the vaccine and are now quietly reversing the
CDC directive that teachers do not need to be vaccinated before they
pursue in-person instruction.