• Cynthia Roy

Reopening Schools and the Exploitation of Workers

Reopening schools is about the economy. It is about getting people back to work, but not so that they can thrive.

I remember when the CDC first released the criteria for reopening schools. CDC stated that if certain conditions could not be met, schools should not reopen. I thought, along with basically every teacher I know, that schools can’t meet the criteria outlined by the CDC so we must not be reopening until Covid is under control.

But then strange things started happening:

One, a cleverly crafted narrative on why schools needed to be reopened was developed. Suddenly, the same people responsible for the disinvestment and underfunding of public schools started saying that schools are an important part of our community — vital infrastructure to healthy, safe communities.

Also, schools started pretending that they could actually meet the criteria for reopening! Teachers are thinking: Were new school buildings built over the summer? How did our schools suddenly have adequate ventilation and hot water?

Eventually, the CDC adjusted its safety guidelines, lowering reopening standards. (You can’t even find the original guidelines online anymore.)

The cleverly crafted narrative about the importance of reopening school buildings sooner than later became so pervasive that people, mainly outside of education, started to buy it.

In fact, when I took my son for his annual physical, the NP stated that it is great that kids are going back so that they can socialize. When I explained what classrooms would look like and the unsafe conditions of the buildings, she was horrified. Sitting confined to a desk most of the day with masks on and without physical contact from others humans is not socialization. Furthermore, schools do not have the same PPE for workers and infrastructure as hospitals. We’re even being discouraged from wearing scrubs and face shields if we want to, because we are expected to sacrifice our own feelings of security to present an illusion of normalcy and safety to our students.

When the same people who are suddenly saying that schools need to be open for socialization, to feed the poor, or to provide services to vulnerable populations are the same people who are responsible for the underfunding/disinvestment of public schools and the same people responsible for the decimation of social welfare programs, you have to wonder (you have to start thinking critically). They never cared about hungry kids, poor families, or students of color before. So, what is this really about?

Reopening schools is about the economy. It is about getting people back to work — and not so that they can thrive either — it's so that the economic elite, the one percent as we like to say, can profit off the backs of workers.

The exploitation of workers for profit is nothing new. Sending workers into unsafe work environments for little pay is nothing new. In fact, the teaching workforce is a good example of exploitation of workers.

America’s teachers are expected to do more and more with less and less. The expectation of teachers is to be selfless, to give generously at their own expense. The expectation of teachers is to be submissive, complaisant, compliant. The unreasonable (and too often unattainable) expectations and demands, as well as the scrutiny and blame that comes along with it, has left teachers feeling inadequate and powerless.

This is the norm, so much so, that:

We are asking teachers to walk into burning buildings and they are doing it!

We are asking teachers to stay positive and be flexible, all while actually meaning bend over backwards ladies and keep that smile on your face.

Americans don’t seem to be phased by the sending of teachers into unsafe school buildings... without proper PPE … to sit in rooms with hundreds of students during a pandemic!

Remote learning for parents, students, and teachers last school year was a disaster and I won’t pretend otherwise. Remote instruction is not the best way to learn. However, prematurely reopening the schools is a labor issue. It is incredibly dangerous for workers and our community, particularly for our most vulnerable populations — people living in poverty, people with underlying health conditions, etc.

Entire communities will be impacted by the reopening of schools and only the economic elite will escape the repercussions.

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