In April, I wrote a piece about how we had been coping through the rise of the global pandemic in San Antonio. As a school, we were focused on figuring out how to best serve our families and students. Since that piece was published, the last few months have been a whirlwind for all of us. Week after week we watch the number of coronavirus cases go up in San Antonio and the percentage of available hospital beds decreases. At the same time, we have watched the out of touch leadership at the national and state level driving for schools to reopen without true concern for our community’s well-being.
We are within a month of school starting, and there is limited guidance from Governor Greg Abbott or the Commissioner of Education, Mike Morath. What we know: we need to reopen five days a week for in-person instruction, masks and face coverings won’t be mandatory, and STAAR will happen. On July 7, less than one month before teachers return to campus, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released a “comprehensive” overview to “start strong.” To add to this, we keep hearing disheartening and tone-deaf messages from the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, and the president.
Ya basta, enough is enough. Enough of the lack of clear leadership at the national and state level. Enough of the confusing and divisive messages. Enough of not listening to our medical professionals advice turn after turn, or doing so selectively. Enough of the fear, anxiety, and worry you’re placing on our school staff and communities.
Meanwhile, superintendents, central office leaders, and principals across the state have been surveying families, teachers, and students. As principals we are uniquely positioned to know what’s happening on the ground and up top. We hear the stories from our families, we know their concerns and that of our staff, we look at all the available information about COVID-19 and draft plans for reopening, and we do our best to guide our communities through these times.
Personally, I am grateful for our district leadership in San Antonio ISD, and I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to make decisions when things are changing day to day. Our superintendent, central office, and school board are leading with health and safety for our community at the forefront. I am proud to stand by Superintendent Pedro Martinez’s announcement to start our school year in a way that makes sense for our community. When the governor decides to align to the national level without true consideration for our communities, that is where the buck has to stop. We want true leadership devoid of the politics that are driving decision making. Now is not the time for us to be divided by political parties.
As an educator, I have over a decade of commitment to all of my students, teachers, families, and communities. Of course I want to see all of my students again in person, and so do our school staff members. Of course I worry about learning loss. Of course I lose sleep over students who may be in homes where they are neglected or abused. I also worry about families who have to get back to work for fear that they might lose the roof over their heads, and I worry about families who had a difficult time with remote learning. I worry about our students served by special education and the linguistic and social-emotional needs of our students. All of these are valid reasons to move toward reopening schools. But we cannot ignore the fears that exist in the minds and hearts of our teachers, students, and families. We know they are in tough positions as well.
As a principal, I see our teachers who have poured years of love into their work, and who are just a few weeks out from returning to so much uncertainty for their own protection and well-being. We have PE teachers with questions about how to keep kids moving and healthy, and music teachers trying to figure out what their teaching will look like in person. We have teachers worried about how they can meet all of their kids’ needs in these times. We have teachers with health issues that would be compromised by COVID-19 with many unanswered questions about their path forward. Our teachers are the backbone of our society; we need to listen to their concerns and honor their service. It’s what I strive to do every day as a principal, but these concerns seem to fall on deaf ears on a state and national level.
Less than one month out, we still have more questions than answers. What will happen when a class is exposed to COVID-19? How do I console a student who is crying from six feet away? How many lives have to be lost before we realize none of this was worth it? The list of questions goes on and on and yet Governor Abbott and Secretary DeVos provide no answers.
My heart is heavy thinking about the funerals we will have, the intergenerational challenges for health and learning, the trauma that will follow, and us looking back to see much of this could have been avoided if we had true leadership. Together, we need to look ahead to all of the unintended outcomes that can occur if we do not pause in this moment when cases continue to rise. We can’t gamble with our teachers and kids’ lives.
Our teachers can still provide learning remotely and in phases bring students safely to campus. We can begin to do home visits for kids who we are worried about. Counselors, social workers, administrators, and others can step up in new ways to support families. Let us who lead this work locally do this right.
Some will point to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidance that states “the AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” This does not fully address the complexities we know as principals, especially as our county continues to battle with COVID-19 daily. We want students to return safely and in a phased-in model that allows us to be flexible. The AAP also states: “Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics. We should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings, and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it.” We have to listen to their message fully, not just what Abbott and DeVos interpret.
We implore that you listen to us, let us lead locally, and help us protect our communities. Take a stand with us. Certainly, as school leaders that serve a diverse community with a high percentage of Latinx students, many of whom live in intergenerational homes, and who are some of the most vulnerable due to health and academic needs, we want to serve our community in the best way possible. We want to serve it justly and to afford all of our students the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. It’s what drove me from day one of becoming a teacher and now a principal. I feel confident that we can do so with our leadership locally. Now we just need more support at the state and federal level. Let us come together during this pandemic y ya basta with the fear, with the politics, and with the lack of true leadership.