As I write this, my colleagues and I have spent the last few days in complete bewilderment at the prospect of starting face-to-face instruction even as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise. None of us relish the prospect of teaching online again, but we care about the safety of our students and colleagues. Many of us know we are at high risk due to underlying health issues and are absolutely terrified to return under these conditions.
Valid concerns regarding educational equity have arisen. We know that in the spring, when schools shut down, we lost track of our most vulnerable students. However, what was happening in the spring was educational triage. It was simply crisis management.
Going forward, learning remotely promises to be more meaningful, rigorous and engaging. Educators have been working for months now to improve delivery and access. When Betsy DeVos characterized educators as having “given up,” it was an absolutely false and infuriating statement. No one I knew gave up. My colleagues were working harder than ever.
Many families are now in the unfortunate position of needing to work outside the home and have no plan for child care other than schools. Unfortunately, our nation has not prioritized the welfare of working families. Schools are not babysitting services, but stating this does nothing to ease the burden of millions of families. Families might prefer to shield their children from the virus, but they have no options other than sending their children back to school. I’m not sure you’ve been in a school lately, but social distancing is precarious at best.
“Many families are now in the unfortunate position of needing to work outside the home and have no plan for child care other than schools.”
How can the church respond?
First, become an advocate for the safe reopening of schools AND for stimulus packages to protect working families. As I write this, a $3 trillion aid bill passed by the House sits on Mitch McConnell’s desk, and he is in no hurry to pass it or any alternative stimulus package.
Meanwhile, increased unemployment benefits are running out and evictions resume. At the same time, President Trump and state leaders call for the immediate reopening of schools in order to stimulate the economy, ignoring the exponential rise in coronavirus cases in many states and threatening to pull funding.
Write to your elected officials, call their offices, and don’t forget to vote.
Second, consider adopting a campus and deploying volunteer mentors who can facilitate online learning for small pods of students from the same family or families. Some of us have some degree of “corona privilege” and have been able to transition our families to at-home learning with little hardship other than the universal hardship of social distancing and staying home. What would it mean to families to have the fear and anxiety of returning to face-to-face learning removed? Can empty church buildings be a part of this support structure?
Third, help equip school staff with additional Personal Protective Equipment. Many educators are afraid of bringing the virus home and plan to purchase scrubs, extra masks, disinfectant, all kinds of PPE. Every year, educators spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars from their own pockets to supply their classrooms. This year, many educators are feeling the burden of this tenfold, with no shared classroom supplies and the need to take extra safety measures. Educators need the tangible support and encouragement of the community in order to go forward during the most frightening school year in memory.
What else can you think of? The church throughout history has been a source of aid and comfort in times of crisis. During the time of COVID-19, I’ve seen the strength and creativity of God’s people come through in awe-inspiring ways. This is one such time where our voices and actions are sorely needed to stand in the gap for our families and schools in need.
Shana Gaines teaches elementary music in the Richardson, Texas, Independent School District. She is a policy fellow with Teach Plus DFW. Her education includes a bachelor’s degree in music from Union University, a master’s degree in church music education from Southwestern Seminary and a master’s degree in school administration from Lamar University.