Safely reopening schools during this pandemic is possible. We can do this by adopting three guiding principles. First, student and staff safety must be protected. We do this by adapting schools and classrooms to COVID-19, meaning we put in place protective measures. School-based leaders must lead on this. Second, the virus must be contained, so that families and communities are safe. We do this by following public health containment measures, such as testing and contact tracing. Schools and public health officials must work together on this. Third, the right to accommodations must be recognized for students and staff alike. We do this by putting in place systems to support accommodations and options for students. Families and schools must work in partnership to do this.
The problem with the BC school restart plan is lack of integrity. Rather than level with the public about the true costs of closing or opening schools, the plan attempts a half measure that simply passes those costs down to students and educators. Worse, it turns dollar costs into human costs, by downloading these costs in terms of risks to our health.
While public health has done a good job of slowing things down, and using the time to plan and prepare, public education has not. Our leaders continue to dither and delay. We are left without real plans. Instead of real plans, we are left with plans that are simply lists of nice words on paper but not additional resources and protections for schools. Real plans will make priorities, be based on measurable data, and have accountability and transparency in place. Realistic plans will put schools and classroom teachers in charge, have measures for local (school-based) decision making, and set guidelines based on how schools actually work.
The brilliance of [the public school] system is that it allows for one system to work, for the most part, across a huge range of contexts and to meet the individual needs of every student in the system. While we can all agree that we must do a better job in meeting all students’ needs, the design of the system itself is, given its size and scope, surprisingly responsive to the individual needs of each individual student, especially if we don’t undermine this part of the system.
Equal opportunity, a public service, the place to park the kids while we go to work. Each of our understandings about the purpose of public education is as varied as who we are and from which experiences we have emerged. In light of the political and scientific dilemmas we face today, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, we have an opportunity to revisit the role and importance of public education in society. Spoiler alert. It is far more than a child care service for the economy.
White people, like me, talking about racial justice is fraught with difficulty because no matter what we say or do, we can’t really understand what we are talking about. That’s why representation is so important, why having voices of people who directly experience anti-Black racism be in the room, at the table, and in positions of power when the critical decisions are made. But representation is never enough, in part because it can easily slip into the painful trap of tokenism.