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Discussing Safety while Looking at Educational Justice and Equality

July 21, 2020 pm31 7:49 pm

My primary focus for the last few days, weeks, months, has been safety. And Black Lives Matter. And the pandemic. But for the last few days, as the NYC Department of Education has issued directives that they have mislabeled “plans,” it has been just safety.

A friend asked me to reframe the conversation in a way to bring the needs of vulnerable children forward

How do we effectively manage for safety concerns while ensuring the most vulnerable learners actually get an education?…Some of our students, they are not learning for a myriad of reasons. And, some are.  We are framing the conversation without holding the most vulnerable learners in mind and merely thinking about safety but from our personal perspective. That will get us to a flawed system.

I think she was right. And as I began to talk to teachers I found quite a few who agreed – not close to the majority though. And the trickiest part? There’s no space. There’s no DoE or UFT fostering these kinds of discussions. We need this space to exist. Or we need to create it. I’m not sure how.

In any case, a tremendous contribution to this discussion came across my desktop yesterday. I am sharing excerpts below, and the whole thing is linked here.

The title is “A Teacher’s Response to Medical Health Guidelines around Re-opening Schools” and it is by V Serrano Bautista, and it appeared in Medium. Bautista is an Oakland-based early childhood educator and an executive Board member of the Oakland Education Association.

Here’s a few lines – but you should click the link and read the whole thing.

…the fear of how the working class and/or poor children will fare if schools continue to be closed. As a student who grew up working class and experienced severe trauma as a young child, I understand the concern; public schools offer their communities immense support…

Pivoting to distance learning was a significant burden for me… it also really laid bare how much of what I do, is so dependent on relationships…

This pandemic has offered… clarity … laying bare many ways we have failed families and children by solely relying on the few but crucial services we offer in public schools AND have also accepted that teachers should bear the brunt of stabilizing society.

We have little to no parental leave, so that ALL families can BOND when there is a new life joining the family…We have accepted that poverty and hunger are not a pandemic of its own, but a normal …we have no federal paid sick leave so parents can stay home with their sick child… we have no sick leave for parents to take when they themselves are sick …

Pre-pandemic, our schools have existed and thrived, as well as offered what they could, on the backs of devoted teachers, school site workers, and principals, many of whom have SACRIFICED their own well-being, time with loved ones, and often, their own health to do right by their communities.

The idea of “learning loss” is incredibly frustrating, due to the inherent assumption that children do not learn from their communities and their families. Learning is a complex and relationship-based process that children … undergo EVERY SINGLE moment of their lives; that we as a society do not value what children learn from their families and communities …is an inherently classist and racist orientation that speaks to our largely limited perspective. …

…teachers and school staff have always assumed the risk and responsibility of keeping our students and families safe. Despite the risks we take for our students and their families, we are left out of the discourse to inform our own working conditions, even though we understand our conditions and needs, the best.

Instead of the medical establishment and public health experts recommending that we reopen schools for “the sake of the children” or to address “learning loss,” they should really reflect on why they are deciding that the adults in schools should AGAIN be assuming the risks to return to an even more dangerous and deadly status quo.

Instead of the medical establishment and public health experts recommending that we reopen schools for “the sake of the children” or to address “learning loss,” they should really reflect on why they are deciding that the adults in schools should AGAIN be assuming the risks…

Why aren’t medical practitioners demanding Medicare for All so that every single child and family can access medical services and be able to seek care when they are ill?

Where is the call from the medical establishment for mental health support services OUTSIDE OF SCHOOLS… instead of asking teachers to continue to act as untrained mental health counselors?

…why aren’t medical professionals pushing our government, at all levels, to institute a universal basic income so that both our families who lived in poverty pre-pandemic and all families who are struggling with the loss of income during this time, will not starve or become unhoused?

It goes on. Please don’t settle for my excerpts, but click the link, it’s a wonderful read, well-worth the 12 minutes.

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