A friend of mine made a post on social media last night saying that she “wasn’t angry about people thinking schools should reopen,” and while I admire the measured tone and spirit of cooperation she displayed in her commentary, that sentiment left me feeling uneasy.
Because I AM angry about people demanding schools reopen ASAP.
I get the frustration, and the fear that so many have about possibly losing their jobs. But none of that makes it ok to try to shame teachers back into the classroom with comments like, “the kids need us”, “it’s going to be so powerful”, “we’re going to forget all our worries once we get into it”, and “remember why you became a teacher”. This is nothing more than cheap and lazy rhetoric designed to make teachers feel badly for trying to protect their own health, and the health of their families.
The solution isn’t rushing to open schools before they are safe–the solution is for Congress to pass a stimulus package large enough and bold enough to pay people to *not* go to work, and that provides bonus/hazard pay for those who *do* need to work–health care workers, public safety personnel (fire and police), grocery store workers, etc.
And that stimulus package also must provide the federal and state resources to actually *do* something about making schools safe, which to my knowledge has happened in very few places. It’s not enough for school districts to “encourage” their employees to get vaccinated–school systems should be proactively securing enough vaccine doses for all employees to get two shots, and immediately set up the infrastructure for that to happen.
Now, what are the chances of that occurring? Slim and zero.
Because you can not systematically defund public schools for decades, eliminate teaching positions, school nurses, counselors, psychologists, and other support staff from school budgets, and fail to maintain school facilities, while simultaneously increasing class sizes, cutting health care and retirement benefits for school employees, lowering standards for who becomes a teacher, increasing the number of charter schools that compete for tax dollars, and implement voucher programs and “tax credit” schemes that function exactly like vouchers, and then expect public schools to function like well-funded, adequately resourced public institutions.
I mean, you *can* expect schools and teachers to do these things, but it’s incredibly unfair and doomed to fail. In the same way that expecting teachers to serve as human shields for our children in the event of school shootings was incredibly unfair. Or expecting schools–those same schools that have been defunded, not maintained, and under-resourced–to solve every problem found in our society, from teen pregnancy, to drug abuse, to food insecurity and hunger, to systemic racism and generational poverty.
If you want schools to reopen, then make them safe–and that’s going to cost money. A lot of money.
If you want teachers to return to those schools, then fully vaccinate them–don’t just *encourage* them to get vaccinated.
And if you truly care about “learning loss,” and the physical, emotional, and mental health impact of this pandemic on our children, then pass Medicare for All or another single-payer health care system, put a certified, qualified nurse in every school building, along with counselors and other school support staff, provide well-stocked school libraries, music, art and physical education programs taught by certified, qualified teachers in every school, increase teacher pay and benefit plans to pre-defunding levels, and in general put your money where your mouth is instead of trying to demean and shame teachers back into unsafe classrooms.
It’s time to stop shaming teachers, and demanding that our communities support public education like so many of our friends and neighbors claim to value it.