As parents around the country begin to make the gut-wrenching decision of whether or not to send their children back to school next month, the pressure is felt even more intensely by Black families who simply don’t have any choice in the matter. Despite the difficulties in remote, online learning and the fact that children tend to be at lower risk, many parents and caregivers prefer to keep their children home until there are better reassurances and more information around the impact that the COVID-19 virus will have in the fall.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, with the support of President Donald Trump, has been pushing schools across the country to reopen in-person instruction despite the outbreak numbers currently spiking in states like Florida, Arizona, Texas and California. She’s received criticism lately for not having a cohesive national plan and threatening to cut federal funding if schools don’t comply.
BET.com sat down with Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the leading expert on COVID-19, to explain the bigger picture for parents who, despite the burden, are afraid to send their children back into a classroom. Black and Latino students, who disproportionately attend public schools, are especially at risk because of the number of students, teachers and administrators confined to one school building and unable to maintain social distance protocols. The push from DeVos and Trump seem even more incredulous knowing that these communities die from exposure to coronavirus more than any other group.
“Given the unintended downstream, ripple effect, negative consequences of keeping children out of school as a default position, 40,000 feet, we should try as best as we possibly can to get the children back to school and to keep children in school. However, the most important thing that must be paramount is the safety and the health and the welfare of the children, of the teachers and of the parents of the children,” said Fauci.
“If you can get the children back to school and do things in a way that's safe, you should try as best as you can because we live in a big country. That's very, very heterogeneous with regard to the level of virus. So there may be some counties, some cities where the level of virus is so low that with impunity, you could bring the kids back to school and not worry about it. They're going to be some in which the level of virus is so high, that that might be impossible to do.”
That isn’t the message that DeVos is sending. In an interview with Fox News Sunday, she doubled down on her insistence that students need to return to school five days a week in order to address the educational needs of all kids by doing what is right for them and their families.
"There's going to be the exception to the rule, but the rule should be that kids go back to school this fall," DeVos told Fox News Sunday. "And where there are little flare-ups or hot spots, that can be dealt with on a school by school or a case by case basis."
City school superintendents in some of the hardest hit states are either still creating a “back to school” plan or opting for other measures to keep a minimal number of students and teachers in the same confined spaces. Black parents aren’t buying it. A national poll conducted by Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index found that nine in 10 Black Americans say there’s too much of a risk to send their children back to school in the fall and will opt for online learning. Plus, 75 percent of African Americans are extremely or very concerned about the pandemic doing greater damage to people of color compared to 42% of Hispanic Americans and 30% of White Americans who say the same. Their fears could possibly be assuaged if the Department of Education issued a cohesive plan of action as a model that cities and counties could follow.
While Dr. Fauci believes it is imperative that students return to school, he believes they should only do so if the number of COVID-19 infections are at its lowest, and still there are some warnings to consider.
Listen to what Dr. Anthony Fauci told BET’s Marc Lamont Hill about the steps schools can take to safeguard our children and more.
For the latest on the coronavirus, check out BET’s blog on the virus, and contact your local health department or visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.