The Pandemic Exposed All the Inequities & We Still Got It Wrong
March 2020, the shutdown comes to Rochester.
The great equalizer. We are all in the same storm. The memes circulate. Thank you health care workers for being on the front lines, thank you essential workers, we see you, we thank you for your service. Thank you educators for your flexibility. Thank yous all around. Then reality. We are in the same storm, but we aren’t in the same ship. We never have been. 97% of kids in Penfield have homes, have computers, have internet, have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 97% of the kids in the RCSD live in poverty. It’s been this way for decades.
Suddenly, it’s Fall 2020. Back to school. But only the wealthy can afford to do it safely. The storm turns into a sprinkle for those kids. They hired more teachers, more subs, bought more buses, installed fancy air cleaners. The RCSD laid off hundreds of educators and support staff. The storm turns into a blizzard for the kids in the city, the conditions are hazardous.
Outsiders and the privileged few who are shielded from most dangers see that something isn’t right. This isn’t fair they say! Like they just opened their eyes to the unfairness that has been here all along. Get those kids back in their classrooms! Then it will be fair!
What about the buildings? Old and crumbling
What about the classrooms? Crowded and understaffed
What about our students? Their families? Essential, front liners, at risk
Nearly ALL children who have died from covid are Black or brown. Nearly ALL children in the RCSD are Black or brown.
How do we make this fair? Is it putting our students, already at risk because they live in a country that has undervalued them forever, into a classroom that is inherently less safe than the one in Penfield?
Could we demand, all of us, from Penfield to Brighton, to the city and beyond for equity? For the funding to make it safer? For money for families to stay home if they feel that is safest?
No. We didn’t. Addressing inequity is hard. Pretending all things will be equal if the children are just able to be in their classrooms again? That’s easy.
As easy as it’s ever been to ignore the poverty, the racism, the injustice that lives right beyond a border.
No, just stick them back in their classrooms again, and it will all be okay. We can go back to pretending like all things are equal. But they aren’t, and they won’t be, until everyone wakes up and realizes that the fight is about much more than who is in a classroom during a pandemic.
About Claire Labrosa
(she/her/hers) Claire Labrosa is an English as a New Language teacher in the Rochester City School District, and a founding member of the Rochester Organization of Rank and File Educators (RORE) a social justice caucus in the RTA. Claire is a lifelong Rochester resident, a graduate of the RCSD, and a passionate advocate for equitable and fully funded public education.
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