Over the weekend, I read this Medium post by Dr. Shayla R. Griffin, “Some Students Should Go To School, Most Should Stay Home.” In it, Dr. Griffin highlights the crisis of the schooling decision facing all communities right now: remote learning has serious weaknesses, but in-person instruction presents significant risks right now in the face of a global pandemic. Of particular concern, the students most at-risk in remote learning—students who struggle to learn, who aren’t connected to school, who require social services such as free or reduced-price lunch—are the same population most at risk of serious health or life impacts if exposed to COVID-19 by holding school in-person. These groups are disproportionately represented by students of color, who are more at risk of serious bodily damage from coronavirus, and who are dealing with the dual crisis of having their status outside the mainstream curriculum exposed and analyzed right now. Hopefully, this anti-racist work will lead to improved circumstances, but it certainly reinforces the concern that students of color are “damned if you, damned if you don’t” return to school buildings in the fall.
Dr. Griffin launches from a paradigm that rejects either/or thinking and urges both/and thinking. To her point, the coronavirus puts students of color at risk both from serious health complications for them or their older family members and from widening gaps in educational access. It puts low socioeconomic status students at risk both from loss of access to school meals and to a safe school environment and from limited healthcare and depressed health outcomes for their friends, relatives, or selves who become sick. In the face of such an enemy, wielding both/and attacks, any reasonable solution can not be penned in by either/or thinking.
Dr. Griffin lays out a 6-part approach to schooling, based in acknowledging that most students will be able to succeed in a remote learning model, with appropriate planning, provisions, preparation, and progress-monitoring. For students at risk of either (a) not succeeding in this model (for example, those who would be unable to learn from observing lectures or reading), or (b) not getting their needs for basic food, shelter, and safety met without an in-school option, there will need to be an in-person schooling model with robust safety protocols. Part of that safety plan will involve strictly limiting the population in this category to support social distancing by those who most need to be there.
Implementing such a plan will certainly invite criticism that it isn’t “fair” that some people can choose in-school or remote learning, while others don’t have access to the former option, but as we know, what’s fair is often unequal. To paraphrase Jane Elliott, if anyone would prefer to have both options available to their, all they have to do is switch places with them. Anyone choosing to take on the burden of systemic racism, debilitating health complications, harrowing poverty, or disability, in order to lift another family to a life of relative comfort and lessened concerns, can reasonably argue that their child should be considered for coming to school in the middle of a pandemic.