During this time when so many schools had to close for in-person teaching and learning, there has been a new appreciation for public schools. There is no doubt: Schools must be open. In person. Five days a week. With the space and facilities to do so.
We know that’s how kids learn best and that prolonged isolation is harmful. School is where children learn. It’s where they work together and play together. It’s where they form relationships and learn resilience. It’s where many children, who otherwise might go hungry, eat breakfast and lunch. Parents rely on schools, not only to educate their kids, but so they can work—like the 3 million mothers who dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic.
This pandemic has also underscored how important educators are.
Teachers scrambled to redesign lessons and projects, and to create virtual field trips and labs to keep kids engaged and learning from afar. School food workers kept meals coming, often feeding anyone in the community who needed it. Many school bus drivers delivered those meals, along with schoolwork and internet hotspots so students could learn from home. All the while, educators have yearned to be back in school, with their students. They only asked for two things—a safe workplace during this pandemic and the resources they and their students need to succeed.
They are exhausted. They’re working longer hours, troubleshooting IT problems, and trying to connect with students despite the barriers—whether that’s a computer screen or a Plexiglas shield. If there’s an educator in your life, you know this.
Yet critics have scapegoated teachers and vilified their unions because of school closures during the pandemic, ignoring the extreme disparities among schools and blaming teachers for problems outside their control.
Creating safe conditions in schools during a public health crisis is not an obstacle to reopening classrooms; it is the pathway to going back, staying back and creating trust throughout the school community.