Returning To Normal… With All Deliberate Speed?

Certainly, the masses of Americans are ready to return to “normal.”

By normal I mean a return to engaging in all the activities and indulgences of life. An unavoidable truth is that for “normal” to return – activities that serve one or both functions of generating income and/or entertaining – young people must return to school.

The Coronavirus pandemic is obviously why we’re far from normal, but is normal our preferred destination?

For many Black students, normal wasn’t all that great. Public schooling has a long history of racism. Black children are over-policed, continue to endure de facto segregation, taught culturally irrelevant and non-identity affirming content by majority white teachers, while attending schools subject to inequitable funding.

Now, throw in the mix that we remain in the midst of a global pandemic that has killed more Americans than anywhere else; a pandemic that disproportionately kills Black people, and it’s no wonder why Black students, and their parents, are in no rush to return to in-person school, as opposed to white parents.

And yet, governors on both sides of the aisle are calling for schools to open; the CDC has release guidelines reducing social distancing in schools to 3ft instead of 6ft. Governor Phil Murphy, of my state of New Jersey, has announced that remote learning for the 2021-2022 school year will not be an option for students.

But if you ask some Black parents, they’ll tell you that their children are thriving. While the realities posed by the digital divide cannot be ignored, neither can the realities of whitewashed textbooks, disproportionate discipline and culturally incompetent teachers when Black students attend school in person. 

Nor can Black parents concerns for the health and safety of their children be ignored.

As a Black parent with a third grader, a kindergartener and a preschooler, my wife and I experience the stress associated with enduring this pandemic. However, my family is alive and that matters to me more than lost school lessons and memories that can be replaced with new ones.

What is most interesting to me is the sudden concern about equity for Black children, specifically Black children whose families are low-income, from folks traditionally unbothered by the inequities Black children face.

Those voices aren’t to be confused with voices who have a track record of genuinely caring about Black children. Voices like Nikole Hannah-Jones, who offers thoughtful dialogue on the impacts that learning remotely will have on Black children while white children attend schools in-person.

But to those who are all of a sudden concerned about the academic progress of Black children as a reason to reopen schools, where was your advocacy urging that school districts hired more Black teachers? Where was your advocacy against the Trump Administration’s removal of the Obama Era discipline guidelines? Where was your advocacy demanding that school districts rid themselves of culturally incompetent curricula while promoting that teachers adopt a culturally relevant pedagogy?

As Dr. Ivory A. Toldson, editor of the Journal of Negro Education, shared on Facebook, with respect to remote learning that we’ve only examined one side of the issue.

He cautioned policymakers and advocates alike to consider how schools made Black children feel unwelcomed, how the circumstances of the pandemic forces teachers to be more flexible where assignments are concerned and how Black children normally suspended for being out of dress code or for chewing gum aren’t so much.

What he said at the conclusion of his post serves as good advice:

Learning why some families do not want to fully return to in-person learning could help us create a more accommodating ‘new normal’ for diverse learners.

Considering that 74% of Black parents and family members believe the education Black students receive is worse than the education delivered to white students, we’d do well to heed that advice.

If Black students academically achieving all of a sudden matters to you, so should their health and safety.

According to CDC data published in September, Black youth accounted for 29 percent of COVID-19 deaths among people under 21, twice the percentage for white youth and also, Black children under 18 at a significantly higher risk of hospitalization—almost four times higher than white children and teens. This contributes to why Black adults were the most likely of all racial groups to worry about the health risks of reopening.

As a Black parent I have my concerns about sending my children to school – available vaccines don’t change that.

President Biden declared that all Americans will have access to a vaccine by May. Even with all teachers vaccinated by the start of the next school year, these vaccinations do not prevent spread of the virus, meaning that the adults can spread the virus to children. We’re not out of the woods just yet.

Children immunocompromised, like my son who has type-1 diabetes, face an even greater risk of infection. how can his safety, and others like him, be guaranteed?

I am sure that a virus for the youth is on the way, however it probably won’t arrive in time for the start of the school year and when it does arrive, just like with the vaccines for adults, the urgency of the moment will excuse the need for a trial period to see how children respond to the vaccine.

I’d like to know that the vaccine is safe and effective for children to take. Generally, it takes approximately ten years for a new treatment to complete the journey from initial discovery to the marketplace; clinical trials alone take six to seven years on average to complete. That concerns me; in addition to the history of racism in the healthcare of Black people.

But Americans needs to be safe so we can all get back to work, and children back to school, right?

Sadly, death, or the prospect of it is not a deterrent for Americans to change; not death from the Coronavirus or mass shootings. Caught in the crosshairs are our young people.

Sure, our nation cares about the safety of children, however our nation cares that parents get back to work much more. In the case of Black children going back to school, we can reimagine all we’d like to; no  plans for safeguarding against the racism they’ve dealt with previously in addition to the threat of a pandemic while learning in-person tells me that  those who care believe that back to normal is just fine for Black children.

Just know that “normal” isn’t what Black parents want for their children. Black parents want for their children to thrive academically. Consider why remote learning maybe the best option for that to happen.

What do you think?

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Rann Miller

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