Panel Discussing What Chicago’s Students Deserve in Schools, Instead of Police

It’s important to remember that as Chicago’s school buildings re-open, that students going back won’t be greeted with mental health experts. They will be met by police. We need to reimagine our schools and what supports our students should have to help them, instead of the looming threat of arrest against them. I was honored to be on a panel discussing what our students should have instead of police put on by Raise Your Hand Illinois. To watch the full panel featuring CPS students, parents, educators and elected officials click here. #CopsOutCPS #PoliceFreeSchools

White CPS Parent to White CPS Parent, What Are You Thinking?

In Chicago Public Schools, white kids make up only 10% of the students. Yet shockingly, almost 7 out of 10 of the white families have decided to influence CPS towards reopening in-person learning during a pandemic. Roughly 7 out of 10 Black and Latino families have decided to keep their kids and school staff safe by continuing to learn from home.

As a white CPS parent who is absolutely, without question, keeping my children at home to continue remote learning, even amongst its challenges, I have to ask, white parent to white parent, with kids in CPS, why?

My partner and I are both white CPS educators and our two white children attend CPS. We will not be sending our children back to school in-person. Our own kids’ CPS teachers, as well as CPS educators across this city, are being more innovative than ever before, to teach our kids remotely. Of course, in-person learning is ideal, but we’re in a pandemic, nothing is ideal right now. We care about the safety and health of our children, their friends, their families, and their teachers. We will not put them in danger, period. So my question is, why are you?

Do you think that Covid-19 won’t harm your child? That the virus won’t harm you or your family? That it won’t harm your child’s friends or their families? That it won’t harm the educators who work with your child? What about their families they go home to each day?

My experiences with CPS didn’t start until 2007. Unfortunately, I learned quickly that the way the institution was run was deeply flawed and unjust. My experiences taught me that CPS is and has been full of lies for years, research tells me for generations

I’ve worked in schools that only had a nurse for half a day, once-a-week, on Fridays. I’ve seen librarians, counselors, psychologists, and social workers cut. Technology coordinators laid off and computer labs filled with non-working computers. I’ve worked in schools with no soap in the bathrooms, broken asbestos tiles and barely functioning HVAC systems. I’ve taught in classrooms with no windows, just cinder block walls and poor ventilation. I’ve worked at a school that was defunded to the point of being forced closed. I’ve seen little kids, on a February night, beg CPS officials not to close their schools. I have seen parents go on a hunger strike to open a school in their neighborhood. I, along with thousands of other educators, walked picket lines so your kids and every kid in Chicago Public Schools could have more

I’ve watched CPS close schools in the name of saving money, while simultaneously buying ten million dollars worth of new office furniture. Since my first year teaching in CPS there have been 8 different CEOs leading the school system.  Even the title of CEO is problematic, like kids are some sort of pawn in a business scheme. Some of these leaders are in jail, while some give themselves $40,000 raises, during a pandemic while simultaneously talking about equity. 

I’ve watched mayor controlled and undemocratically appointed school boards fail the students of this city time and time again. Just recently, the Mayor forced CPS to buy broken computers from her campaign donor. Until students across this city protested over the summer, our school system was paying the Chicago Police Department $33 million per year from our education budget to police our own students, in their own schools. 

I’ve seen the communities and schools that I work in be defunded. I’ve seen TIF Funds diverted, clinics closed, and violence increase. I’ve experienced the death of my students. I’m not okay from these losses, from these disinvestments, from these lies. I learned not to trust this school system. Due to your privilege of whiteness and the segregation of our city, you may not have learned these same lessons. 

I can’t sugar coat it, the choice you are making is selfish and beyond offensive. Of course, parenting is hard right now, working from home or in-person while figuring out how to do remote learning is beyond challenging. We have had to figure this out for months now. However, by opting to send your kids back to hybrid in-person learning you are choosing to risk the health and lives of others because of your inconvenience. Inconvenience, a foreign concept to most of us. The teachers that you desperately want your children to be with will catch your kids up again in-person. We do this constantly, after every break, after a student illness, after summer vacation. We are professionals and masters at our craft. We will catch them up, after we all are vaccinated, next school year. Kids will bounce back from the limitations during the pandemic.

However, do you know what you can’t come back from though? Guilt from causing pain and loss. The guilt of being responsible for getting other children or their families sick. The guilt of getting educators sick. The loss of livelihoods. The loss of life.  The guilt will rise because of your selfishness to push to open the schools, when it is clearly unsafe for so many.  Be inconvenienced.

Let’s be clear, if you’re not happy with remote learning, hybrid learning will be even worse. Educators have gotten pretty good at connecting with our students and can give them all our full attention.  Our lessons are getting more effective.  We’ve made changes to benefit our students that have taken time to develop and evaluate.  Hybrid will change everything.  It will force us to divide our focus.  Kids on screens? Or kids in person?  Does one get the priority?  They will all get a diluted experience.  With remote learning at least we can focus on everyone all at once and meet their needs. We can give live feedback, while students are working. Hybrid will require us to work two jobs at once and keep everyone safe. 

The warm and loving classroom that you picture your kids returning to is not reality. This new school reality, during the pandemic, will have students being yelled at for not wearing masks properly. It will feel chaotic, in-person one day followed by scary and inevitable Covid-19 outbreaks and quarantines the next. Kids thrive on structure. Fear, chaos and anxiety help no one.

Maybe you voted to send your kids back because you wanted options. You want choices to do what is best for your kids. You think you can change your mind in February and stay remote.  Here’s the problem, the decision to have this flexibility, guarantees that educators, parents, and students across this city will be put in harm’s way whether you decide to put your kid in-person or not.  You are responsible for getting this dangerous ball rolling.

Covid-19 has not impacted white communities to the same extent as Black and Brown communities. This isn’t due to racial superiority or inferiority, it is due privilege. White communities have been invested in and valued, while Black and Brown communities have not. To further highlight this, during this pandemic Chicago blew up a factory in a Latino neighborhood adding to air pollution and tried to close a hospital in a Black community, during a pandemic for a respiratory illness. We, white parents, can be anti-racist.  We can inconvenience ourselves for the benefit of those who have forever been inconvenienced.  We can greatly reduce the risk of getting and spreading Covid-19, in your circle, and also in our most vulnerable communities. We can prevent the loss of health and the loss of life. We have that privilege. 

So to my white parents, who make up just 10% of CPS families, yet are the persuasive 67% that want to send your kids back to in-person learning. I am pleading for you to be creative, be ok with further inconvenience and come up with other ideas. You don’t like remote learning and you want it improved? Good, so does every other parent and educator in this city. Use your influence to demand that CPS sit down with, partner and plan with parents, students and educators. Demand that this working group represent the population of CPS by having about 75% Black and Brown families. We white parents are only 10% of the total makeup of CPS, we should be a part of that conversation, we should not monopolize it.

White parent to white parent, use your privilege for good. Listen to and raise up the voices of concerned Black and Brown parents who do not want to send their kids back to hybrid in-person learning. What have they experienced in our school system that you have not?  What do they see that you don’t?  Join parent groups like Raise Your Hand, who work tirelessly to improve our schools, for all. 

Don’t send your kids back to school. Vocally tell CPS and the media that you made a choice because you wanted options and didn’t realize the consequences others would face across the city, because of your choice to have options. It is okay, we all mess up, we’re all naive and make missteps at times. Being a parent is always hard and during a pandemic, harder than ever. It is time for you to speak up, not only for your children, but all children.  As our Mayor ironically says, “We are all one home team, Chicago” so let’s do this together, to keep our city safe. 

Let’s demand that Chicago Public Schools creates a real plan with parents, educators, and students, from across this city making decisions at the planning table. Demand to create ways to bring about safety that does not jeopardize thousands of children, families and educators, just because white parents are currently inconvenienced. 

*Header photo courtesy of the National Children’s Advocacy Center

On The Delve Podcast Discussing Schools Opening During Covid

I was interviewed on a new podcast to discuss why schools should only open remotely this fall. My interview starts just after 18 mins. in. Before is a principal from New York City Public Schools and after me is the head of the Milwaukee Educators Association.

Back on Fox32 Chicago Discussing the CPS Decision to finally be remote

After weeks of teachers, parents, and students expressing their fears with the proposed hybrid model by Chicago Public Schools, CPS announced they would start the school year remotely. I was asked back on Fox 32 to discuss that decision.

https://www.fox32chicago.com/video/837746

Featured in the Chicago Tribune

After my blog post about why schools should be remote only this fall gained popularity, Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens interviewed me. She wrote this column based on a conversation that we had.

https://www.chicagotribune.com/columns/heidi-stevens/ct-heidi-stevens-cps-teacher-worries-about-infecting-students-0716-20200716-bkpxoeqjdra45iiotbkewrli2a-story.html

Educators Will Always Pick Science Over Capitalized Tweets to Keep Students Safe

students

(Photo courtesy of Edutopia.com)

A little over a year ago, my partner asked me if I taught a particular student because she heard they had been killed. I immediately began scanning my memory for the names of every student who I had taught since 2007, about two thousand kids. After a while of frantically racking my brain, I decided I was pretty sure that I hadn’t taught this child, but because I’ve taught so many students I had to double check social media, just to make sure. I’ve experienced student death before. I’ve lost students to community violence, police violence and tragic accidents. I’ve been devastated by every loss but was always able to grieve and then come back from it. This day however my head felt like it was in a fog that I couldn’t get rid of. The students I’d lost kept coming back all day. I was picturing empty desks, Facebook tributes, funerals, and their faces. It consumed me.  

Eventually, my partner convinced me to go to a therapist. I had no desire to go. I had many preconceived notions that seeing a therapist would mean I was weak.  Therapy was not easy, but now over a year later, it has helped me and I continue it. 

I share this story because if politicians think for one second that I’m physically going back into a classroom where I have the potential to spread Covid-19, a potentially deadly disease causing a global pandemic, to my students or their loved ones, then they must be out of their minds. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain that would cause me if I was personally responsible for the death of one of my students. 

There’s currently a full on assault to get schools open, without regard to consequences. President Trump tweeted in all caps that, “schools must open in the fall” and later the same week threatened schools would lose funding if they didn’t open. Our inept Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who hates public education, is also threatening school districts to open, or else. These two want us to not only ignore science and the continued, purposeful neglect of the American public school system, but they want us to willingly put our students in harm’s way.

As educators are showing across the country through Tik Toks and memes, asking kids to wear masks and saying that overcrowded and underfunded schools can social distance is an absolute and terrible joke. The public school my own children attend had to have a fundraiser for fully functioning water fountains. 

I teach in Chicago Public Schools.  This past fall they forced educators to go on strike for basic things that our students should have always had. A few basic needs we marched for were nurses, social workers, counselors, librarians, the ability for four year olds to take naps in Pre-K, and for cleaner buildings. Chicago has schools with lead in its water and asbestos in its buildings. Schools across the country have issues like these and have also had to strike to improve education for their students. America’s schools have been overcrowded and underfunded for generations. 

Through all of these challenges however, educators have always made it work. Virtual learning was not ideal this spring. Educators, parents and students had to learn a lot on the fly while also keeping our families safe and worrying about everyone and everything. We created virtual class meetings, we learned new digital apps to better engage and educate our students. We had no training or resources to help us. We learned by talking to other educators and communicating with students and parents. Many students across the country didn’t have adequate technology or internet at home. Schools worked to help them. Teachers held virtual parent conferences and started reaching out to parents much more. Personally, during virtual learning, I got a grant from Donors Choose for $1,000 dollars and sent books to my students, I sent weekly parent updates, sent Remind messages, checked my school email constantly, used Loom, Google Classroom, made videos explaining assignments, held virtual classes, and had my students compete in virtual poetry events. I’m not an exception, countless teachers I know did these same things to help students and often even more.

As educators with proper virtual teaching training, we can and will do even better this fall than we did in the spring. We always do. As an educator I’d pick in person learning any day with my students but because of the failures of our federal government this is not an option. Temporary virtual learning can and will work, because we can plan for it this time.

President Trump tweeted out a list of European countries where schools were open, as if the U.S. and Europe were at the same place with Covid, we aren’t. While much of Europe has significantly reduced Covid cases, we have U.S. states with higher Covid infection rates than entire countries. Western Europe worked from the start to not only acknowledge that Covid was real but also to put nationwide systems in place to stop it. They also have national healthcare.  That is why their students are in school. 

It’s summer and the U.S. is setting world records in Covid outbreaks. Politicians like President Trump discredit science and Betsy DeVos makes false equivalencies, comparing the risk of riding a bike to purposefully putting students in danger due to Covid. They depersonalize our children to rates. They say the death rate is low. My students and their families aren’t numbers, they are people.

Trump claims that Covid has a “low mortality rate” as if these aren’t actual lives. Covid has a death rate 50 times higher than the flu. We have almost 57 million K-12 public education students.  Even with a very conservative estimate using the mortality rate of .03%, we are talking about the very tragic possibility of 17,100 dead students aged 5-17 from Covid. But if we include kids under five in that estimate, the statistics change and that number of dead kids could quadruple.  Sit with that, for perspective. I hope you don’t need it but the attacks on 9/11 had almost 3,000 deaths. That was a terrorist attack.  If our students die it’s murder by our government. The number of student deaths doesn’t even take into account spreading it to their families, educators, school staff and the community at large.  Those groups of people, based on age, have significantly higher mortality rates. We will not be an experiment.

Yes, virtual learning caused many challenges for parents, students, and educators this past spring. Instead of bashing and threatening teachers, our government should be supporting educators and families to prepare for virtual learning.  They should be putting protections in place to help parents have income while working from home. Our country can and should learn the Covid best practices that other countries have implemented, because I do not want anyone’s children or families, my own family, my colleagues or community members to be put in harm’s way. 

As educators begin speaking out about their fears of schools reopening, they have now drawn the ire from Fox News hosts. Just this past week Tucker Carlson called me a “self righteous little fortune cookie” because I dared tweet that educators care about our students.

I’ll double down on my tweet and say not only do educators across this country care about our students, we will do whatever it takes to keep them safe, even if that means that we must prepare for a national educators strike

Starting the school year virtually is a tough thing for educators to think about. We love being with our students, even the annoying ones. I, however, don’t want other educators to know the pain that comes from losing students. Keeping our students, their families, our own families, colleagues, and community safe is the most important thing we can and will do. 

Educators across this country will pick science over capitalized tweets. We will pick the love of our students over threats made to us any and everyday of the week. 

 

Reimagining Public Safety in Schools #PoliceFreeSchools

I was a part of this virtual panel sponsored by Raise Your Hand and the Chicago Teachers Union.

Listen in to youth leaders, parents, educators, and stakeholders discuss their experiences with SROs, the current organizing around removing SROs in schools, and why they believe cops should be out of schools.

We protest police in the streets, so why do we let police in our schools?

This is a piece that I had published in the Chicago Reporter about why all Chicago’s schools and every school system in the country should have police free schools.

https://www.chicagoreporter.com/we-protest-police-in-the-streets-so-why-do-we-let-police-in-our-schools/