I have devoted my working life to teaching, having been a teacher in community colleges for over 40 years. Several generations have come through my classrooms and know me. I am speaking to them and to every working class family in Michigan when I say that what is happening now in the schools, with COVID, surpasses anything I have seen up until now.
The debate about schools during the time of COVID is whether children should be in school, or should they be taught remotely to be safe. But it’s not an either/or.
Children and young adults need to be physically back in school. Being in the school classroom is learning; it’s friendships; it’s socialization. For many children it’s where they get their main meals; where they have access to books, computers, sports, musical instruments – a whole life that allows children to grow cognitively, socially and physically.
Teachers need to be in school, with their students. That is how we know our students. Their strengths, their challenges and their needs. Their families.
But schools need to be safe. What is needed for schools to open safely? Ask the people who know – teachers, support staff, bus drivers, custodians, the parents.
Open more schools so that children and young adults can be in smaller sized classrooms. Hire more teachers and pay them what their valuable work is worth. Hire skilled workers to upgrade the ventilation systems in all of the school buildings.
Buy more buses, hire more bus drivers, so that children can be socially distanced. Hire more maintenance workers, so that every bathroom and every touch surface can be disinfected every two hours. Guarantee that there are nurses in every school and other necessary medical personnel; keep the schools well stocked with both medical and cleaning supplies.
If some schooling has to be done remotely, make sure every child has a laptop; every city and county should have access to an internet connection. Internet should be a public utility and during this pandemic, even the utility fees should be waived.
What would it take to do this? Money – and lots of it. The American Federation of Teachers estimated it would take about 2.3 million dollars for each school to be properly equipped and organized to cover the basics to protect the children, teachers and staff in the middle of this epidemic. In Michigan, that would mean AN ADDITIONAL 816 million dollars. Just for protective equipment and supplies, plus reorganization.
Even before the pandemic hit, funding for public schools had already been cut back. Schools in working class and rural areas were already severely underfunded.
There’s no reason for that. There is money to fund the schools ordinarily and to fund them even more during this epidemic. There IS money in this society, on the Federal and state levels. Earlier this year, the Federal Reserve opened up the spigots for the banks and the big companies, without even waiting to see what was going to happen with the pandemic. The State of Michigan has been giving tax breaks continuously ... to billionaire real-estate developers, like Dan Gilbert; and the Ilitch family; to corporations, like Ford Motor Co.
Hali McEachern, who is also running for State School Board along with me, and I both say that working people need to fight to take back this wealth – it came from us in the first place – and use it for schools and public services working people need.
I’d rather teach, than sit on a School Board. Hali would rather be in school. But someone has to be on the school board to stand up for what is needed. We say it will take a tidal wave of money to get children back to school and safely. And it will take an organized fight to take back the wealth the working class has produced and use it for the public services the population needs, including all the money the schools need.