Don’t Open Schools

By Victoria Tralies

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Don’t Open Schools
Schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District will not be opening on time as planned. On July 29, LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner gave a press release that emphasized how important it is to prioritize students and their needs in this time of crisis. “I don’t believe one-size-fits-all, top-down, compliance-driven bureaucracies are the answer,” he said. The answers lie at the grassroots in the classrooms of the communities we serve. I implore other superintendents, in Los Angeles and nationally, to share the same vision and remember what education is really about: doing what’s best for the students. Unequivocally, the most important truth I held after my first year of teaching was simple: no one understands students’ academic, emotional, and social needs quite as well as teachers. The teachers understand what is best for them, next to parents and the students themselves. Teachers are the changemakers, the midwives of equity, justice, and growth in the lives of the students they teach. I am confident that most teachers and students should not return full time to school in person this fall. It may have disastrous consequences for the health and safety of all stakeholders if they do so. COVID-19, thus far, has already impacted Americans tremendously, infecting 3.8 million and killing more than 141,000 people. This is devastating not just for the gross loss of life, but for the children whose lives and upbringings will indelibly be marred by this national tragedy. Precautions such as mandatory mask mandates, earlier stay-at-home orders, and ethical leadership may have prevented these deaths. It is up to teachers and educators everywhere to help prevent further loss of life. While I understand that teachers are expected to go well beyond the responsibilities their job entails, I also know that no one understands classrooms like we do or advocates for children like we can. Hence, this responsibility again falls on us to stand up for the rights of children and families, especially those who live at or below the poverty line. Though this is not ideal by any means, the notion that returning students to the classroom and business as usual is absurd and violates our moral obligation to protect American youth. While the White House claims that “young people do extraordinarily well” with COVID-19, current statistics tell a different story. In Los Angeles County alone, 4,213 people have died from the virus, while the entire state of California has seen 8,049 deaths. The truth is that not only can young people die from COVID-19, they can pass it on to at-risk family members. If going back to school means putting students, faculty, and staff at risk, especially in underserved areas, that risk is one that educational leaders should not take. Part of the reason this topic is difficult is the fact that schools do more than educate students. Repercussions from COVID-19 highlight the disparity of resources that continue to exist in impoverished communities nationally. Schools feed students, provide emotional counseling, distribute medical information, offer childcare, and provide networks of support for crisis and care. In 2018, eighty percent of 2.4 billion breakfasts provided under the School Breakfast Program were free, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. School districts are doing their best to continue providing these services even while students are being taught remotely. Additionally, teachers and their students are not all alike. Though the coronavirus has demonstrated that national mandates can work well in times of public health crises, the same does not always apply to education. Classrooms, student bodies, types of education, and needs differ between and within school districts. While working at a public school in Phoenix, I recognized early on that rules and regulations depended on the students and families in each community. While I urge public officials and school board members to act quickly and ethically, I also call on them to do justice to the specific communities they are serving. Victoria Tralies is a high school teacher and has instructed English for the past two years in public schools in Phoenix, Arizona. She has a M.Ed. from Arizona State University and a B.A. from Saint Joseph’s University. She specializes in teaching English as a second language and literacy strategies. 

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August 7, 2020