With a presidential tweet masquerading as a mandate and a willing henchwoman at the U.S. Department of Education, aided by willing governors who spend their days currying favor with the White House, furious debate broke out this past week over the wisdom of reopening school buildings.
For clarity, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) must emphasize that no one is against reopening schools in some form: through virtual endeavors such as Florida Virtual School (public) or K12 (charter), through distance learning platforms that school districts utilized in the spring, hybrid models in which students would spend some days on their campuses and some days at home, or a full return to the campus.
Schools will reopen.
What we are arguing about is whether school buildings should open.
Teachers are at risk and most of the debate weighs the benefits and risks to children versus the risks to teachers, many of whom are older and have underlying health issues.
Then there are the forgotten. No one is talking about them.
A Google search for the typical movie or song that GOT likes to use with a post turned up a 2004 movie in which a grieving mother is told that her dead child never existed and that she’s delusional. Evidence is suppressed or denied.
At this point, something of what we’re being told about Covid-19. We’re delusional and there’s no evidence the pandemic has resumed its exponential spread and deadly consequences despite the daily data reports.
Then, GOT found this poem: The Forgotten Ones, by Corrina H.
I am the voice of those afraid to speak,
Those of us society calls weak,
Those you ridicule every day,
The ones who have nothing to say.
We have feelings too, okay?
I am the voice of those alone,
The ones abandoned and on their own,
The ones who hide their pain in their eyes,
Those you never saw cry,
Those of us you just pass by.
I am the voice of those you forget,
The ones society regrets.
Though you see us, you don’t care
Whether or not we are here,
And we, like shadows, slowly disappear…
Who are the forgotten ones? In all this debate, whose voice is not being heard?
Teachers resist going back to their buildings, but if they do, they demand the cleaning that classrooms will need daily, maybe hourly, to keep them sanitized.
The forgotten are those who do that work. Those whose very job requires them to be exposed to the virus, either from the sneeze and cough deposits on student desks, plexiglass barriers, door handles, light switches, and the like as they have to wipe them down or from the airborne particles that linger in the air for hours after people have left the room.
They, too, must take great risks with their health and lives to do their jobs. They don’t make much in wages; if anyone needs to keep working despite the risks, it is them. Custodians and cleaners come from the more vulnerable parts of our population. How is it we do not hear from them?
Perhaps they don’t make enough money to afford an internet connection and they don’t have the time. They’re too busy working.
That is no reason they should be forgotten. If we reopen schools, their needs must also be considered. What are we asking of them? Can we keep them safe? If not, if we cannot provide protection to the people who must clean and sanitize to keep us safe, should we be reopening buildings?