By Berwick "Underscore" Augustin
Do I sacrifice my life at the expense of becoming an involuntary accomplice who fatally harms children and their academic futures? In addition to planning for one of the most vital and stressful professions on the planet, many teachers are spending their summers facing life altering decisions. The dilemma of reopening schools in the fall of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic is a monumental moment that is being cemented in history books globally.
In a USA TODAY/Ipsos poll in May, 1 in 5 U.S. teachers said they were unlikely to go back to work. Can you imagine the catastrophe of opening a school with 20% of your educators? A principal's primary concern is to make sure that kids are safe and teachers are equipped to teach them. Now, administrators are faced with the reality of those two pillars hanging by a thread. Neuroscience research has confirmed that focusing on instruction is only effective when the focus on the environment for instruction is intact. As it stands, schools are looking to begin the school year with everyone wearing a mask, on edge, and relating to one another in unhealthy ways. Whether teacher or student, neither one can properly function in their roles if safety is absent.
Have teachers become pawns in a political game? I have colleagues who are echoing those sentiments. They strongly believe their beliefs are valid because we live in a country where the president's irresponsible words and actions have become a lighter that ignites the nation's gasoline soaked anxiety levels. Not to mention the state of Florida's constitution that empowers school boards instead of the Department of Education to operate, control, and supervise public schools. Keep that in mind next time you cast your vote for school board members. Apparently, the experts are saying that the American economy needs schools to reopen to stand a chance at recovering, but congress hasn't put up the funds to secure equity, health, and safety. This pandemic is projected to be worse than the financial crisis in 2008 where 300,000 school employees lost their jobs due to budget cuts. I'll spare you the COVID-19 financial kickbacks to hospitals who toe tag dead patients with the virus and possible herd immunity attempt by the government to curtail the infection spikes. Wherever the truth falls in the midst of the speculations, it won't be a good landing place for an already fractured educational system in America if a robust plan is not in place.
Educators are in an immunocompromised and financially challenged situation. Although teachers are overworked and underpaid, many are in a position where they cannot afford retirement or leave of absence because they are so dependent on their jobs to make ends meet. Not to mention 18% of instructors nationwide are over the age of 55. A percentage that rises dramatically once other essentials workers like bus drivers and cafeteria workers are taken into consideration. This is all before staff members who have pre-existing conditions like cancer, diabetes, blood pressure, and other sicknesses are added to the COVID-19 fatal formula.
We can be sure that the lawmakers and board members who are making these decisions will not be in classrooms teaching our kids. Their children will not be part of Black and Latino families who are three times more likely to be affected by the virus, won't have adequate resources, and may have working parents who are unavailable to assist during online learning.
Although it seems like it's dark and hopeless, there's hope. We don't know the full extent of ill agendas working behind close doors. We do know we have to continue to lock arms with organizations like the NEA to put pressure on congress so they can allocate funds to pay for vital educational workers, protective equipment, nutrition, mental, and social support for ALL scholars. In the meantime, get plugged into villages within your community for necessary assistance. Last but certainly not least, put your trust in God regardless of how things may seem. As a man of faith I'm confident that COVID-19 did not take the Lord by surprise because He knows the end at the beginning; believing in Him will give you a sense of peace and security that surpasses your understanding.