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  • Writer's pictureAndie Kantor

Opening Schools

"Let me say this loud for those in the back--

Teachers are not responsible for the recovery of the economy, babysitting children,

or “getting us back to normal.”

Stop trying to guilt us into risking our lives for the government’s failure to act.”

-Jen Cordero

First, my credentials. I am a National Board Certified Teacher of English. I am currently working as a Teacher Librarian --you need a second credential to be a TL--in a middle school in South Central, Los Angeles, in Los Angeles Unified School District. I am also a mentor to new teachers. I am highly qualified to do what I do.

According to this article, our Republican lawmakers feel that it's mandatory for schools to physically reopen in the fall. The first two sentences read, “Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday assailed plans by some local districts to offer in-person instruction only a few days a week and said schools must be "fully operational" even amid the coronavirus pandemic. Anything less, she says, would fail students and taxpayers.”

Schools have long been utilized as free daycare in this country. After all, when students are required by law to be physically in school, parents can then feel free to work. Here in California, schools get a daily allowance per student-butt-in-seat--so you can bet they have many, many programs to keep kids in school.

Our system has created financial dependence on schools being open.

A normal school day has, say, 35-45 students in a classroom--as well as a highly trained teacher. Throughout the day principals, assistant principals, and other coaches from the district walk in and out, as they observe. Many classes have teaching assistants to support learning for special populations.

So, imagine we all come back. It’s the first day of middle school. No one has COVID-19. Of course they don’t, they wouldn’t be in school if they did. So we all are there. Two weeks go by and whoops! Someone had it in period six.

Oops, if they had it in period six, they had it in periods one through five, as well—and during lunchtime. They have had it all day long for two weeks, been in contact with each of the students and adults in each of their classes, and during lunch for two weeks.

Let’s say they have a best friend who they are lucky enough to share classes with. Best Friend now has COVID-19. BF has gone home--let’s say this school is in a densely populated area, like the one in which I work--South Central--and BF has a very close-knit family who all live together. BF--for two weeks--infects mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, aunties, uncles, siblings, cousins. None of these people know they are sick. Their lives go on, they go to work, they go to school, and they continue to shelter in place as best as they can.

But COVID-19 is much more insidious than that, isn’t it? Because not only BF will get it, but all the students, teachers, administrators, lunch ladies, custodial staff, district coaches, teacher assistants, bus drivers (think about a packed school bus going to different schools. They are Petri dishes in normal times, but now?), and everyone else who comes into contact with anyone at the school, will get it. These adults will go home to families during those two weeks, and also infect them as everyone continues to shelter in place as best as they can.

According to science--and by “science” I mean the “Center for Disease Control,” for those who didn’t want to click on that link-- “symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus,”

Within two weeks COVID-19 will spread throughout this entire community and all the communities that people who are connected to, through the school. And we can multiply this scenario by every single school in the country that opens early.

Nowhere did DeVos mention mandatory testing, extra money for cleaning supplies and bodies to sanitize schools, or even a viable plan for the safety of our citizens. I have so many questions--for example, how is sanitizing (classrooms, bathrooms, public spaces, the main office) proposed? How do we clean air circulated by the AC? Will we be tested? How? Will temperatures be taken? How often? Will masks be provided to the entire school community? Who will enforce the wearing of them--think about kindergarteners and preteens, hell, I can’t even get my seven-year-old to brush his teeth half the time. So many times a student comes back from the nurse’s office with a wet paper towel because that is the only supply the nurse was given--what extra supplies will be given out to schools to care for cases of COVID-19? There is no plan to keep children—let alone whole communities!—safe. No one even knows what we could do in order to stay safe. Except stay home.

Opening schools at this time is an attack on our most vulnerable communities; it is racist and classist, as you can be sure that wealthy people who can afford Zoom tutors will not be sending their children physically to public school--and we all know that the vast majority of the wealthy in this country are white. Demanding that public schools must open is warfare on the lower and middle classes.

I do not want to die from COVID-19. I do not want my son to die from COVID-19. I do not want my students, their families, my coworkers to die from COVID-19. I do not want any more US citizens to die of COVID-19.

What I want is for us to all come together and beat this terrible virus. I do not understand why all of our wealth and power are not being thrown at it with the might with which we fought the British to win our Independence. We are still in the first wave of a global pandemic--the last time we had one we were a smaller population who didn’t have the entitlement issues that pervade our current society--and that had three waves.

I understand the desire to hurry up and get to the new normal. However, opening schools during a global pandemic is not it. Schools CANNOT open physically any time soon without support from our communities and the federal government. We need an entirely new system that supports our citizens, and we need it soon. Until that time, we all need to stay home.

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