by Michael Kane
Recently Liz Glass has announced on her Instagram account that she no longer supports TEACHERS FOR CHOICE (TfC) . In doing so she made (at least) one completely false statement that must be addressed immediately.
Glass wrote, “It is unacceptable to demand choice for themselves, yet accept forced medical procedures – mask mandates – on children.”
We have done no such thing.
Our organizational position is to immediately unmask pre-K, K, and 1st-grade students everywhere right now! All other mask mandates – for both adults and children – we believe need to be debated and determined on the local level, not by Cuomo’s fiat. Additionally there are unique differences between urban and suburban school districts that I hope to explain in this post.
Glass is saying we must 100% forbid mask mandates in all schools. Many TfC members and supporters agree with her, and all of us want to eventually get to that point. However Glass does not work in the NYC public school system, nor does she currently have children in it. She completely misses that there is another issue at play here – remote learning.
In NYC, the mayor has said 100% of students are returning to in-person learning in September, but as a teacher in the system I can tell you that is *not* a guarantee – not at all! Many forces are still pushing for a remote option next school year.
Over 60% of Black parents in NYC do not want to send their children back to in-person learning. I have spoken to many Black and Brown parents, including those of my students. I have spoken to some who are immunocompromised, are not getting vaccinated because they want more scientific data before they make that decision, and are scared to death to send their child back to school. I am extremely sympathetic to these parents and the tens to thousands just like them in the NYC public school system.
How are we going to get these families to send their children back to school?
Are we going to get them to come back by telling them, “Look people – school’s open, there is no remote option, you have to send your kid back in-person, and no one is required to wear a mask any longer.”
Do you think that’s going to work??
It won’t, and it will be seen as inherently racist.
The Black community in New York does not trust the school system, they do not trust the medical system, and they certainly have plenty of reasons not to trust either. If we don’t regain their trust they will not return to school in September and a permanent remote academy will be created in NYC. Such permanent remote academies already exist all throughout the country now and have existed long before COVID in places such as North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and many more states. UFT President Michael Mulgrew is currently calling for a remote academy to be created in NYC and he is arguably the most powerful person in the NYC school system right now.
Finally, I do not feel I or TfC can speak on behalf of every community that makes up the NYC public school system. We are far too diverse for that. The parents who are publicly calling to end all masking are 90% white, as am I. I appreciate and respect their opinion. In fact, we gave our platform to Jenna Miller, an 11-year-old 5th grader from Ulster County, NY who called for ALL mask mandates to end in front of UFT headquarters! Clearly we think her voice needs to be heard!
However, most parents calling to end all mask mandates are not talking to Black and Brown community members. I am, and I can tell you they have mixed and varied views on the full reopening of NYC schools. Parents and their children are scared to come back. I know this for sure. They tell me all the time.
I am talking to people on all sides of this issue and it is critical that we allow everyone to speak, to tell their stories, express their fears, and BE HEARD even when we disagree with them – ESPECIALLY when we disagree!
There are so many people who want TfC to shut up because they don’t agree with us, which I find repulsive. It flies in the face of free speech, fundamental rights and true progressive liberal values, and I simply refuse to treat anyone else that way. When an immunocompromised mother tells me she is scared to send her child back to public school because she decided to not yet get vaccinated, I hear her and I feel her pain. If she decides to send her child back to high school in September because everyone will be wearing masks that may be a compromise I (and many others) will make to help ease the process of full school reopening and to help prevent the Big Tech takeover of education in NYC.