The head of a Washington state teachers union claimed, last week, that re-opening schools for in-person learning is not only an example of “white supremacy,” but that concerns over students’ mental health are a form of “white privilege.”
Echoing comments made by the Chicago Teachers Union months ago — that re-opening schools for in-person instruction is both “racist” and “sexist” — the president of the Pasco Association of Educators (PAE), Scott Wilson, “made a series of unhinged, controversial remarks during a Pasco School Board meeting,” according to reporter Jason Rantz.
The comments were captured on video, as the board of education conducts its meetings on Zoom amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Wilson began by comparing the effort to reopen schools to a riot at the United States Capitol that took place on January 6th. That incident left five people dead and dozens injured.
“There are decisions to be made. You stand on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol as people break down barriers and head to the doors. Do you follow?” Wilson asked. “You stand at the governor’s mansion. The crowd breaks down barriers to enter the grounds. Do you follow? Or do you choose a different way? We must not ignore the culture of white supremacy and white privilege.”
Wilson went on to elaborate on what he meant by “white supremacy” and “white privilege,” giving specific examples in order to refute the board’s arguments in favor of re-opening schools.
“We speak of equity, we speak of care of all students, yet we listen and attend to voices saying ‘Reopen everything, I’m free to breathe,’ supporting white privilege,” he said.
Oddly, the switch away from in-person instruction seems to have disproportionately impacted low-income and minority students, particularly in major cities like Chicago. Higher-income students can seek out options other than public schooling — magnet, charter, or private schools, many of which have remained open for in-person instruction — and children fare better with remote schooling in households where one parent can devote time and energy to virtual learning.
Wilson was not finished, however.
“[Parents] complain their children are suicidal without school or sports,” Wilson said. “As a father, daily surviving the suicide of my son, I find these statements ignorant and another expression of white privilege.”
Concerns over students’ well-being and mental health, though, are difficult to dismiss as mere cultural constructs. School administrators across the country are now grappling with the problem, noting that while students may be resilient when it comes to academics, they are dependent on social interaction.
“Superintendents across the nation are weighing the benefit of in-person education against the cost of public health, watching teachers and staff become sick and, in some cases, die, but also seeing the psychological and academic toll that school closings are having on children nearly a year in,” The New York Times reported Sunday. “The risk of student suicides has quietly stirred many district leaders, leading some, like the state superintendent in Arizona, to cite that fear in public pleas to help mitigate the virus’s spread.”
“Mental health problems account for a growing proportion of children’s visits to hospital emergency rooms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” The Washington Post reported last week. “From March, when the pandemic was declared, to October, the figure was up 31 percent for those 12 to 17 years old and 24 percent for children ages 5 to 11 compared with the same period in 2019.”
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