Dear Mr President and Mr Vice President,
I am a full time elementary teacher at a Title I public Montessori school in a state that has, in the last two weeks, experienced a drastic uptick in confirmed COVID-19 cases, due possibly in part to a decently sized indoor rally. I have spent a good chunk of the last few days watching your briefings and meetings about reopening schools. While I do not believe you’ll see this and I fully know you wouldn’t care if you did, I need to say this for my community, my colleagues, and myself.
First, reopening never felt political until you threatened to withhold funding and attempted to bully the highly trained and educated specialist at the CDC to rewrite their guidelines for opening school because y’all wanted guidelines that were “not too tough” to implement. Or as any engaged bystander thinking critically might note, a set of cheaper and easier guidelines to implement because you want school to reopen. I get it. I want nothing more than to walk into school and welcome back my class! I want us to learn, work, and laugh together. I miss my students, school community, the families, my coworkers – I miss it all.
I know this has caused immense and unfathomable hardships for families, caretakers, and children. I know this has stalled the economy and created vast amounts of financial insecurity for the most vulnerable among us. I also know it’s your job as the leader of the free world to think creatively about the best way to solve for that. I don’t know, maybe, remake some of the systems that seem to be failing? Maybe healthcare shouldn’t be tied to employment? Or everyone should have access to high quality affordable childcare because it is hard to work when your schedule doesn’t match the school schedule, which also happens to be the reality for a lot of people without a pandemic. Just a few ideas to start with, but I know some broad thinkers and dreamers who can help if you’d like to start this conversation instead of talking in circles with no clear action while you *continue to make asinine demands of people’s lives.
But guys, let’s be honest about this. Your push for reopening schools is not centered on getting children back to school for their, “mental health, nutrition,” and because of your deep concern for children with “special needs” as you touted with great gusto yesterday. You know how I know that, because before all this your administration has proposed and cut funding to education, pushed for vouchers for private schools, and taken money away from the public schools you so desperately seem to need now. Your actions have spoken louder than your words. This is a politically tragic attempt to use pathos to exploit education and children, even worse vulnerable children, for your own gain. You’re asking the already strained education system to sacrifice ourselves and possibly our students for the economy? No thank you.
The biggest chunk of federal funding for education goes towards Title I funding and supporting special education services, the very same services you stated were the reasons we should reopen schools. And both of which your administration has proposed cutting, repeatedly. You have already made it harder to meet the social emotional needs of children and to support all learners, such as those who need extra supports due to a lack of investing in education. You made lunch less nutritious when you changed the previous guidelines. It should also be noted that many school districts are still serving breakfast, lunch, and now dinner at some sites. Turns out we didn’t need brick and mortar buildings open for that one.
Tuesday when y’all sat at tables with people who all seemed to agree with you, which must be a nice way to feel good about yourself but is an awful way to create an action based plan to support the reopening of schools, this teacher saw right through you. When you pretended to care about my students yesterday, I became disgusted enough to write you this.
Do not, I repeat, do not attempt to use education in an attempt to bolster the economy. Do not risk my life, the lives of my colleagues, my students and their families because you want the economy to rebound so you have something to campaign on.
I am already asked to teach in an overcrowded, underfunded, paid for with a lot of my minuscule salary classroom. I am already being asked to be a counselor, a social worker, a reading and math specialist, a nurse, a trauma specialist, a caretaker, a substitute, a behavior specialist, and so much more as a teacher because education is not afforded the funds to be properly staffed and supported. I am already expected to protect the mental health of my very young students when we practice for an intruder on campus drill. I have already been asked to plan for what would happen if it was more than a drill. And against my own mother’s wishes, I am already prepared to put myself between harm and my students if it ever came to that because you won’t fight for common sense gun laws.
And now, now, you are asking teachers and school personnel to put ourselves, our own families, our communities, our students and their families at risk of a highly contagious virus with no cure because you want to jump start the economy.
No thank you, sirs.
I will ask that my district uses the CDC guidelines that were written without political influence, though I am beyond confident they are already doing so. The ones that were not changed because the president and his administration politicized this issue. You will not use education as a pawn. And you sure as hell will not use my amazingly talented, intelligent, creative, multifaceted, empathetic, fierce, hard working, charismatic, problem solving, big dreaming, diligent, kind, hysterical, bold, student leaders who are already changing the world for good as your pawns. They are far too precious and I will not stand for it. If you really care about the school children of our country and their well being, like you say you do, you will work to mitigate as much risk as possible by properly funding the most intense and safest guidelines if you want school to reopen. Anything other than that is unacceptable.
— A Full time Elementary School Teacher
*throughout this entire process the government has had an obligation to protect all of us and we’ve failed. No one should be asked to decide between unnecessarily putting themselves at risk of infection and paying their rent. With all of the talent and creativity in this country we should be able to work together to find a way to ensure everyone – grocery store clerk, delivery driver, hospital staff, first responders, factory worker, bartender, sanitation worker, cashier ect. – is afforded the same level of protection as a CEO or, hopefully, a teacher.