As schools across the country begin to open or finalize plans for reopening in the fall, an unfamiliar terrain shaped by COVID-19 will be defined by family economics and social status.
And for youth already struggling to keep up given a playing field and achievement gap that have long been uneven due to racial and economic disparities, those who stand to lose the most will inevitably be African Americans.
Despite the president’s tweets, threats to withhold funding and repeated demands for schools to open their doors as if the pandemic has suddenly disappeared, virtual learning will be the only way to safely educate children until scientists have discovered a way to defeat coronavirus and eradicate its deadly grip.
Experts say we now face a generational catastrophe, derailing the academic growth of millions of youth from pre-K and early elementary grades to high school and college. Meanwhile and tragically, we find our nation’s leaders, both at the federal and local levels, digging in even more to reduce the situation to one based on politics rather than science, health concerns and — need I say — common sense.
Because more Black parents hold jobs deemed as non-essential, they do not have the option to telework — at least not to the extent that white parents can. Further, many Black parents rely upon grandparents to assist with childcare duties including picking up, dropping off, assisting with homework — even putting children to bed and providing meals.
For my youngest grandson who is just entering first grade, my concern is that learning the rubrics of community, playing with others and discovering the norms of societal interaction will be lessons he’ll be forced to acquire later in life — if at all.
As for my oldest grandson, a senior in high school with a promising future in athletics, the cancellation of fall sports does not bode well for him as a football and basketball standout. Still, given his academic abilities, college and career opportunities should not allude him. We’ll be sure of that. But what about youth who cannot expand their horizons and secure a ticket out of poverty or the ghetto because of canceled sports programs? What options will be available for them?
Returning to virtual learning, it’s important to note that homes in which high tech gadgets, computer and software upgrades and high-speed internet service are commonplace only further exacerbate the differences between youth whose parents claim membership as the haves or the have nots.
As New York Gov. Cuomo shared on Monday during his daily press conference, no matter what school districts or the president may say, parents will not sacrifice the health of their children in order to acquiesce to misguided policies. And who can blame them? School bells may be ringing and doors may be swinging open widely but how many will actually show up?
Recent cases in Gwinnett County in Georgia, Alcoa City Schools in Tennessee and Corinth High School in Mississippi, as reported in The Washington Post, point to the dangers of opening schools too soon, ignoring the fact that doing so puts hundreds of thousands of lives unnecessarily at risk.
Whether youth attend public or private schools, teachers, staff and children equally face the threat of being infected by COVID-19 and upon their return to their homes, whether they know it or not, they put their own families in harm’s way.
I wonder what kind of memories our children will have when they’re adults about their school days. I wonder if those memories will be worth holding on to or sharing with their own children one day. I wonder if those who lead our nation will ever wake up and stop playing political shenanigans at the expense of children who look to adults to do the right thing — the logical thing.
For now, my hopes and musings don’t seem be on the nearby horizon. And that’s the real tragedy — for all of us.