As education workers, parents and members of the communities that we serve, we know that for people of color and children living in poverty, education is the pathway to opportunity in this country. But for far too long, inequities in our educational system have shortchanged our Black, Brown and immigrant children of an excellent public education. And the contributions of essential school workers, a majority of us women and people of color, have not been valued.
As we prepare to re-open our schools, we must take this opportunity not just to recover from the COVID-19 crisis but to reset the course for our students and communities. We must begin to tear-down the systemic racism that denies all children a quality education and make fundamental changes to ensure all students and employees can learn and work in safe, clean, and supportive schools – now and into the future. To do so, plans to re-open our schools must be guided by these principles:
Prioritize safety and cleanliness for all
The regular sanitizing of classrooms and campuses has long been regarded as a “wish-list” item for schools rather than a priority. As a result, maintenance budgets have suffered the greatest budget cuts, staffing levels have been drastically reduced and school districts have struggled to maintain basic cleanliness standards. The safe re-opening of schools will require proper protective equipment for all, training, testing and appropriate staffing of maintenance workers to protect students in every environment where they learn – from school buses to classrooms to playgrounds and cafeterias.
Ensure full support and resources for our most vulnerable students
The shutdown of our schools has disproportionately impacted students of color, immigrants and students with special needs, as well as the essential classified school workers who provide them with critical services. As schools re-open, learning-loss and achievement gaps must be addressed immediately through expanded instructional assistance, full access to technology for all, counseling and other services and supports targeted to vulnerable students.
Focus on our communities
The pandemic has laid bare how much working families depend on schools for food, child care, wellness and other basic needs. As communities recover from the economic crisis, schools must more fully engage parents and front line workers to identify neighborhood needs and appropriately target the expansion of meal programs, afterschool activities, health care access (including COVID-19 testing) and other safety-net services.
Recognize and respect the role of essential school workers
As most of the world has sheltered at home, custodians, food service workers and other essential school staff have risked exposure to COVID-19 to maintain the safety and well-being of our communities. But their recognition as heroes of the pandemic has also highlighted the low-wage, part-time nature of this predominantly Black and Brown workforce. As we rebuild our schools, we must also support the economic stability of our local communities by ensuring that the contributions of frontline workers are valued with living wages, family health care benefits, and access to quality, affordable child care.
Bold investment in our schools and communities
Our response to this unprecedented pandemic cannot be budget cuts and business as usual. We must challenge elected leaders to create a more progressive fiscal system. In the wealthiest state in the nation – which has led with a bold attack on COVID19 – we must be equally bold in our demand for equity in education. We must create new revenue streams where the wealthy pay their fair share and our budget is not balanced on the backs of school custodians, cafeteria workers, special education assistants and other essential employees.