Beloved Durham. It is time for us to demand clearly, and in one unified voice, what we need for our precious children to thrive. Educators are being asked to return to in-person instruction, risking exposure to a deadly virus, at a moment when COVID-19 rates are rising. We lack confidence because the current proposal does not ensure our health and safety, and is without a clearly defined plan for school operations. Politicians and school administrators are under enormous pressure to re-open schools, no matter the risk. They are prepared to let us get sick and die.
Our Creekside family is already mourning the death of Yoshi, a Latinx second grader, who loved school, who loved her friends and teachers, and who loved her family. How can you not see the face of your own children when you see her picture? How can we not see that COVID-19 is a game of Russian Roulette, in which BIPOC communities are disproportionately killed?
We know that all children are suffering without school–some without enough food to eat, others without sufficiently supportive adult and peer relationships, many without any internet access, and others with too much mindless screen time. We desperately want to be with our students, to witness their enthusiasm, challenge them to think critically, learn with them, and watch them grow.
For years, DAE has demanded more for our students. In 2018 and 2019, we were leaders in a statewide teacher movement to demand expanded Medicaid, increased School Social Workers and nurses, and increased investment in the education of each child. Senator Berger and Speaker Moore refused to meet with us. They have cut 7000 Instructional Assistant positions, and have left North Carolina 42nd in the nation in per-student spending. Our school buildings and HVAC systems are falling apart, with our schools having been underfunded by $4.5 billion over the last ten years. We need deep infusions of financial and human resources to better support our English Language Learners, our special needs students, and so many others.
Now, educators who have been unsupported for a decade are being asked to return to classrooms. We have not flattened the curve, but if schools do not open parents cannot work and the economy will stagnate. Do not be deceived: Trump, DeVos, and Berger want schools to open because they care about protecting wealth and big business. Their failure to invest in public education over the last decade shows that they do not value our children or school workers.
Our institutions must inspire public confidence, both among the people who work in them and the communities they serve. Even with the best of safety protocols–full compliance with cleaning regimes, masks, cohorting, and distancing–this virus will spread given current numbers. In a normal year, we patch budgets with donations and hope. So far, the state and federal governments have not provided public schools with the human or capital resources we would need to ensure a safe and equitable return. We are not prepared to bury our students or colleagues.
Educators and students cannot return en masse to classrooms until COVID-19 transmission rates are much lower than they are now. Governor Cooper needs to shut down the state to flatten the curve – as Rhode Island and Hawaii have demonstrated. Until that is done, remote learning should remain the default. In Durham, families that have any capacity to do so should sign up for Ignite Academy. Meanwhile, DPS should work with DAE to identify school staff that feels safe in providing in-person support to the most vulnerable students. This should mark the extent to which any DPS employees provide in-person services as part of their work.
There are concrete policies that have permitted other countries to flatten the curve and return to public life: moratoriums on rent and mortgage, universal health care, direct income support regardless of immigration status. The United States leads the world in positive cases and deaths, isolated from the rest of the globe. We must fight together, collectively, for changes that will permit our communities to thrive during this pandemic and beyond. As a first step, we ask that you sign our petition: http://o2020.us/OurSafetyOurSay .
These are our bottom lines:
- Staff must not be forced to choose between their health and their job.
- We must ensure internet access, a computer, and a good, safe workspace for each student.
- We must provide direct academic and social-emotional support to students in safe ways.
- Any plan DPS proposes must be adequately funded, fully staffed, and operationally achievable.
- DPS staff must work with DAE to craft a plan that achieves each of these bottom lines, and must adopt a plan supported by a majority of school staff.
We believe in our collective power and ability to win this fight and those beyond. We know how to organize. We know how to build a movement. We will do everything within our power to keep ourselves and our community safe. Failures of leadership at the state and national levels make us acutely aware that now, at this moment of profound risk from a pandemic, all we have is each other. We keep us safe.