“Public schools are vastly overcrowded and would be a death trap in an uncontrolled pandemic.” This is a statement I made on our Monday podcast with featured guest, long time Civil Rights and education activist, Dr. Howard Fuller. Reopening schools after the pandemic is under control is still a major concern for fellow teachers and students who are returning to schools soon in overcrowded buildings.
Opening up schools for face to face learning during this pandemic is a social injustice to Black students, teachers and families.
I tell parents all the time that the only difference between traditional public schools and public charter schools is that we are serving the same children but in smaller classrooms. Many of the techniques I learned such as how to effectively manage a classroom, engage families and students, and drive a culturally inclusive curriculum came from traditional public schools.
Overcrowded classrooms and teacher work loads is a huge selling point of charter schools over traditional public schools for parents and teachers. The budgets for schools are continuously cut by the same elected officials who don’t have a problem with adding money for more police in schools and communities while children are sitting in crowded classrooms. In some of these schools, there are classrooms with 27-30 desks and water foundations that don’t work or are new but the water comes through old piping. This means the water could be contaminated.
As a special education teacher I know firsthand that the day to day support for us is not there. Schools are not even getting implementation and regulations of IEPs (Individualized Educational Plans) for children with exceptionalities correct! This was before COVID19.
So please know that IHPs (Individualized Health Plans for students with severe/chronic health conditions) will probably not be updated as they need to be. As a matter of fact, ask a teacher, a school administrator about this and watch their face. The conversation will quickly move to “well you know we have so many acronyms in education!”
But it’s a tell tale sign in education that we have been failing children of color since before segregation, especially in special education.
Special education classrooms are overcrowded and overwhelmed with challenges. These challenges stem from the lack of effective co-teaching models currently in schools, language barriers, literacy barriers, barriers that prevent learning from happening at home and most strikingly the disproportionate number of Black and brown children in special education classrooms, especially Black boys who are too often referenced because of discipline.
Reforming public education while reopening schools will continue to be a gradual process, but can it be truly done without dismantling a system built on racism? The solutions to the ongoing challenges pre COVID19 should be a driving force as to how we are reopening schools.
If we are going to ensure that all children, teachers, and staff members are going to be safe while social distancing in public schools and also free from systemic racism then we must:
1. Require all public school districts to have culturally inclusive curricula.
2. Set the number of students per classroom to be no more than 15 students.
3. Require that teachers in the latter part of their teacher certification or training programs become associate teachers in public schools. This gives them training and provides support to teachers.
4. Require that all public schools follow an effective co-teaching model to meet the needs of general and special education students.
5. Improve environmental services for schools requiring all public schools to have full time custodians and nurses.
6. Ensure each public school must have a partnership with the local library, colleges, and museums to have classes based on exhibits, displays or other cultural and real life applications to increase exposure and connectedness to learning.
7. Ensure each public school property should have a portion of land that is given to local farmers to manage and provide fresh fruits and vegetables for students and communities. They should be compensated and used as co teachers to help teach students interested in this field.
8. Employ more paraprofessionals in elementary schools to assist with restroom breaks, recess, classroom activities, small group learning sessions, and regular school programming.
We shouldn’t be rushing to simply reopen schools. We should be intentionally planning during this pandemic on ways to re-imagine how we educate children in public schools.
Jason B. Allen is a Special Education Teacher in Clayton County, Georgia. He is a member of the Association of American Educators (AAE) and an AAE Foundation Advocacy Fellow.
Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.