“I will not be complicit in my students, my colleagues, and my community members’ lives being put at risk because our state has pushed to open our economy before we are ready to do so. Equity matters… I need to be given the time and resources to give my students the best distance learning experience possible under these incredibly difficult circumstances.“
My name is Nika Salazar. I am a resident of Providence and a 2nd grade teacher at The Learning Community, a public charter school in Central Falls. I am here to speak as an advocate for 100% distance learning across districts in our state until a district shows 14 days with no new cases. I am speaking as an advocate for valuing the lives of our students their families, our teachers, and our community members over the reopening of our economy.
According to the COVID Tracking Project, although the Latinx population comprises only 15% of the population, they represent 46% of all COVID cases in our state of Rhode Island. In addition, the Black population nationally is 2.5 times more likely to die from COVID related illness as compared to the white population. Let us make one thing clear- A return to school will disproportionately and directly affect the district I teach in, which is composed of primarily Latinx, Black, Indigenous, people of color and working class families. And in all districts, a return to school will disproportionately affect our Black communities, Latinx communities, working class communities, and immigrant communities. This will affect all of Rhode Island, and we have no data on the long term effects of contracting this virus, nor its long term effects on children, who are often asymptomatic.
In a public meeting of the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education, Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green said the plans for reopening schools for the state of Rhode Island has been heavily researched and will ensure the safety of all, as plans will be driven by science and data, but how has Providence come up with a plan following these guidelines in which students will be asked to self report symptoms and will not be required to wear masks if that is the case? Will that plan keep the students of Providence safe? We know the science and the data- and self-reporting symptoms means that all asymptomatic cases go unchecked. Governor Raimando, did you know that after following state guidelines and having their plan approved by the Department of Health Services Childcare Licensing team, Progreso Latino, a childcare center in Central Falls, which had only 8 children per classroom and teachers in full PPE, had to shut down after 4 teachers tested positive for COVID? Those conditions of social distancing at Progreso Latino are not even possible in most public schools. If Progreso could not contain this virus and prevent spread at their smaller operation with fairly strict social distancing guidelines, how can we expect our schools to prevent transmission? Giving each district the clearance to develop their own plans, when district leaders are not health experts is not only highly irresponsible, but almost certainly lethal, and will be more lethal for students whose families do not have the ability to social distance: working class families and multi-generational families, which comprise a majority of students in Providence and Central Falls.
Currently, every single member of our community and society benefits from in person school closure. Schools being closed exponentially reduces all community members’ exposure to one another. What we know about this virus is that mask wearing and distancing are the only things that reduce transmission. And what I know about my classroom is that social distancing is impossible, even from six feet, even from three feet, even with half of my class. There is no safe scenario because I am a second grade teacher and my students need support tying shoes and getting materials and wiping their nose. My students need an adult to comfort them when they are upset. My students need time to move and run outside. I will not be able to give my students what they need in person if we return in the fall, and if I do, all of their lives will be put at risk.
I will not be complicit in my students, my colleagues, and my community members’ lives being put at risk because our state has pushed to open our economy before we are ready to do so. Equity matters. We need to be planning and ensuring all of our students have access to the tools and services they need to succeed in distance learning, which we will inevitably return to if schools do reopen, including but not limited to access to technology and hot spots, mental health services, healthy food, school materials, and rent relief so students have guaranteed housing. And as a teacher, I need to be given the time and resources to give my students the best distance learning experience possible under these incredibly difficult circumstances.
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My students’ lives are worth more than our economy or their parents being forced to return to work before it is safe to do so. These plans will kill people. We must not return to school until there are 14 days of no new cases in our districts.