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Est. April 5, 2002
Mar 4, 2021 - Issue 855
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Significant progress is being made in promoting the vaccinations of teachers after the pushback of local, state, and national teacher union leaders and rank-and-file teachers in recent weeks. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Dr. Fauci have changed their original guidelines and recommendations to accommodate teacher demands.

Current data reveal that only 4 percent of America’s schoolchildren live in counties where COVID-19 transmissions are low enough for full-time in-person learning, which supports the ongoing teacher advocacy for vaccinations prior to returning full-time to their classrooms. President Biden is also joining this effort by reaffirming his commitment to having every teacher and school staff member receive at least one of the Pfizer or Moderna shots or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson injection by March 31st and enough inoculations for all adults by May 30th.

This change in educational policy has come about because of the organized efforts of teachers and other essential workers in K-12 education. It is imperative that all school personnel - paraprofessionals, general aides, custodians, secretaries, security guards, bus drivers, food service workers, and nurses, teachers, counselors, administrative staff, etc. - have access to the vaccines, personal protective equipment (PPE), updated ventilation systems, and high-quality disinfectants.

The former group has the most frequent interaction with students in poverty-stricken schools, frequently serving as parent substitutes and mentors. These education support professionals (ESPs) are immediate and/or extended family members and neighbors of the pupils they serve. Thus, it is necessary that they have health protections via the vaccine as dangerous and deadly variants of COVID-19 are quickly evolving.

But even as these vaccinations are being made available, we must be mindful not to take our eyes off the larger anti-democratic forces swirling across the nation in tandem with the school reopening debates. Approximately 253 voter suppression initiatives targeting people of color are being pushed through legislatures in over 40 states.

They include more restrictive Voter ID laws, limiting or eliminating Sunday voting (specifically aimed at ‘Souls to the Polls,’ a popular Black voter turnout strategy after church services), erecting stringent barriers to voter registration, and new laws allowing for aggressive purging of voter rolls in areas where voters of color are increasing. These Jim Crow policies of yesteryear are re-emerging with a racist vengeance.

They coupled these proposals with the attempts to reduce and/or redirect funding for public education, in urban areas, to for-profit charter school chains and voucher schools. Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Education Secretary, was masterful in sending money appropriated in the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) for K-12 public education to her corporate- and religious-sector friends for their private schools. She disbursed tens of millions of dollars to them before the public was widely aware of it, and always looked for ways to undermine funding for public education.

This proliferating privatization and class segregation of the public sector reflects the pressure on urban school districts to reopen while the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage in the same counties and cities where students of color predominate, where they and their teachers are at the highest risk of COVID-19 infections, and where their schools remain bereft of the fiscal resources necessary to respond effectively to the coronavirus pandemic.

Their middle-class, mostly White counterparts, parents and community leaders, press for in-person instruction as they have the financial and political support, along with modern facilities, to weather the continuing virus epidemic, and they are using their poor colleagues of color as battering rams to achieve their personal educational objectives.

Republicans (mostly White), who share this aim as individuals and as a party, accept the fact that their numbers will not increase as a percentage of the U.S. population going forward, and the only way for them to keep power is to disenfranchise as many Democratic or likely Democratic voters as possible.

Since 60 to nearly 90 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), Latinx Americans, Native Americans, and African Americans voted for Democrats in 2020, this endeavor is essential for Republicans to hold on to political power. They are using any subterfuge at their disposal to render this fast-changing demographic trend irrelevant.

The reopening schools controversy is another tactic to create chaos in the public education sector by presenting teachers in a negative light and distracting the larger public from other issues at hand. We must keep our eyes focused like laser beams on the complexities surrounding all matters on the Republicans' political agenda.

A connection exists. Last Tuesday’s argument against Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, regarding voting restrictions in Arizona, is the most recent example of Republicans’ assault on the rights of people of color. This case emanated from Biden’s win of Arizona in the 2020 election, the first time a Democrat had prevailed since 1996.

Republicans are hell-bent on establishing an autocratic system of control of every facet of American society - education, the economy, the electoral system, and a feudal system of essential workers of all kinds. Our institutions in every sphere of public life are teetering on the brink of collapse as shown by the attempted coup on January 6, 2021. Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell and BC.

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is published  Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

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