The current chatter about returning to schools has me thinking about how Black children are once again being used to serve the needs of Whites. This is not a new slight-of-hand -claiming something serves the needs of “the least of these” but in reality, the rich continue to get richer.
The current conversation regarding re-opening school is all about how closed schools are hurting the most vulnerable students — Black students, Latinx students, English Language Learners, poor students, and students with disabilities. But, in truth, the parents clamoring the most about opening schools are the parents of the most privileged children.
They are concerned that their children’s resumes are being tarnished by missing all of this school. They are comparing their children’s progress with that of their private school peers who they perceive to be moving ahead of them. They are concerned that their kids’ inability to participate in varsity sports and athletics may be hurting their scholarship chances. They are recognizing that having their kids at home and having to plan for each and every hour of their school day or perhaps having to sit beside them and assist with their virtual learning does not help one climb the corporate ladder. Actually, none of these reasons for wanting schools to be opened is a bad one. But just say that’s why you want schools to open!
Don’t pretend you have some deep conviction to the education of Black children. If that’s your motivation, where was it last year when school was in session? Weren’t Black children struggling then? Weren’t they over-identified for special education placement? Weren’t they more likely to be suspended and expelled? Weren’t they least likely to be placed in honors or Advanced Placement courses? Weren’t their high school graduation rates lower than other students? The rush to open schools “for Black children” is disingenuous and merely a way to cover up the desires of the more privileged students.
I was contacted by two different reporters who said they heard that Black parents were leery of sending their children back to school and they wanted to understand their rationale. The first reason Black parents are reluctant to have their children return to school is health and safety. More Black children are likely to live in multi-generational homes. This means that even though children are less likely to manifest COVID-19 symptoms, they can still contract and shed the virus and infect a grandparent or parent with underlying conditions. Given the high rate of COVID infections and death in the Black and Brown communities, Black families are not willing to take the risk of transmission. Also, many of the schools our children attend are in buildings that have problems with their HVAC systems. What evidence do Black families have that their children’s schools have been retrofitted with upgraded filters and proper air circulation systems? What is the evidence of improved cleaning and disinfecting in the buildings? Who is monitoring PPE in the schools?
Second, Black families are keenly aware that school was not the haven of comfort and safety that some professionals try to pretend they are. Yes, some children live in unsafe and unstable homes, but rather than solve their problems, some students find that school exacerbates their problems. School is the place some students are stigmatized by standing in the “free lunch” line or being pulled out of class for special services. School is the place where their academic struggles are magnified and what they don’t have (i.e., two parents at home. new clothes, fancy school supplies) is on constant display. School is a place where adults yell at them for not knowing an answer or not completing an assignment or project. No, school can be a place of a special kind of violence.
I understand the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages students to return to school to address their social-emotional needs. However, what has your local school said or done that suggests students’ social-emotional needs will be a priority? How have Black students’ teachers conveyed that to them? Indeed, I have heard from a number of Black parents that their children are less stressed and less anxious in virtual school. Some Black parents indicate that the school has reached out to them more during the pandemic than they ever did when students attended face-to-face school. Many Black parents are finally having a school year that does not involve constantly running up to the school to deal with school personnel.
The decision to return to in-person school is deeply personal. We all have our own reasons for why we think it’s a good idea (or not). Just don’t pretend you want schools opened for those “poor Black kids” when what you want is school opened for your own kids!