From Pennsylvania to Newark, New Jersey, Wyoming, Montana, and many more states, lawmakers are pushing for the reopening of public schools. In Philadelphia, public schools are set to physically reopen in the fall. This decision has garnered the support of state legislators, although some areas in Pennsylvania are still in the red. They are more focused on jump-starting the ailing economy regardless of the repercussions of reopening schools too early.
At the highest levels of government, lawmakers are citing the risk of learning loss due to extended school closures as the reason behind the reopening of schools. But, parents and activists are not buying what lawmakers are selling. For one, they argue that lawmakers are using learning loss to disguise the prioritization of the economy over the well-being of vulnerable communities.
Privileged vs. Unprivileged
The impending reopening of schools has surfaced the disparity in the options available for the privileged and the underprivileged. Most students from well-off families can opt-out of school reopening until it is safer. On the other hand, kids from poor communities don’t have that privilege, yet these communities are the most vulnerable to the virus. From New York to California, the virus has disproportionately affected African Americans due to historical imbalance in access to healthcare. The risk of infection, particularly concerns for underprivileged students who don’t have a parent to teach them at home and lack home learning devices like laptops. They don’t have any other option but to take their chances in school and hope for the best. Yet, they attend the worst schools that lack essentials to reduce the spread and contraction like soap, sanitizers, and overall cleanliness. This is a major concern for teachers, parents, activists, and students alike.
The privilege to opt-out is not restricted to economic factors but also includes other issues. For instance, distance learning is highly ineffective for students with disabilities. They require specific learning tools and devices, as well as professional assistance. This why some school districts in Wyoming and Montana are set to physically reopen only for students with disabilities, and they also don’t have the privilege to opt-out. The decision to reopen is an attempt to force the most vulnerable kids to choose either to risk their health or miss the entire academic year.
Why the Resistance to Reopening of Schools?
Although the quick reopening of public schools is the most viable option to prevent learning loss for disadvantaged kids, it also increases the risk of a resurgence of the virus among poor communities. Parents with the means can leverage a wide range of options that do not entail putting their kids at risk of infection. Its only underprivileged students that are faced with the dilemma of choosing either to lose the entire school year or risk the possibility of contracting the virus. With the health of entire communities on the line, the privilege of opting out is more beneficial now than ever.
To most parents and activists, the decision to put the most vulnerable kids and communities between a rock and a hard place disrespects the basic human right to health and education. Even though the reopening of schools advances their right to education, it infringes on their right to health and vice versa. By pushing disadvantaged kids back to school ahead of privileged students, parents and activists believe that the lawmakers using the most vulnerable students as guinea pigs.
Some teachers and school-based staff are already raising concerns about reopening schools too early based on the lack of effective measures to avoid infection. Also, most parents prefer to keep their kids at home even though they are worried about the impact on their academic performance.