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