On schools, and priorities

Teachers, parents of school-age kids, students, school staff… I am feeling for you so much. Our national failure to get this pandemic under control is giving you no good options. And, again, the health, developmental, and economic risks associated with any option are likely to fall disproportionately on students of color and on families, teachers, and staff in high-poverty districts. Again, again, this is not okay.

Reducing COVID-19 transmission, using smarter surveillance testing strategies, and getting to sustained positivity rates below 5%, are so important to give schools some semblance of better options. Everyone can help here. We can wear masks when we’re in public spaces. We can wash our hands and avoid touching our faces. We can stay at home as much as possible. We can avoid being indoors with people outside of our households, and choose outdoor activities where physical distancing is possible. Even as bars and restaurants and other venues are starting to re-open, it is really too soon in most communities around the country. Kids’ education is so much more important. If we can, we can order take-out, support local artists and small businesses by buying online, and contribute to mutual aid funds and efforts instead. And for people who work in places that are re-opening, businesses should guarantee PPE, health care, and sick time.

A strategy oriented around public health and equity would sequence priorities differently, while continuing to provide for people’s basic needs. It is possible to envision a strategy that focuses on opening schools safely and offering realistic remote learning options (for teachers, students, and parents), while providing child care to support parents who are essential workers, while providing basic income and housing assistance to people who have lost jobs or income, while providing access to loans for businesses to enable them to make operational choices that support public health interests. It would not look the same or require the same resources in all communities, but the cost at a federal level would not be the real barrier to implementation. It would say something very different about who and what our country values most.

There is so much complexity to this pandemic. The root causes are critical to understand, and the policy and economic implications demand sustained attention and advocacy too. There is risk in over-emphasizing individual behaviors and choices when, in fact, it is the lack of a cohesive national strategy to control a pandemic that is primarily to blame. But there are simple things we can all do to help. Our lives and wellbeing are intertwined. We can’t give up on each other.

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