Balance of Covid risks around in-person classes, charges of white supremacy stir parent questions (corrected)
Dear esteemed educators,
As a parent in the Cambridge Public School District, I have long been a supporter of our exceptional public school teachers. We are entrusting our most precious resources in their hands. As a parent, I don’t have the ability to seek their guidance on a regular basis, so I’m hoping they will explain some points of confusion for people such as me.
Risk-taking and circular economy
Given that all district students live in Cambridge and a majority of our teachers live in nearby cities, I assume we all buy groceries from our neighborhood stores – and are all putting our grocery workers at risk. If we get delivery, we’re risking the lives of our grocery delivery drivers. Up the supply chain, we need farmers and, for some, people working in meat-packing plants. All of these laborers have been historically underpaid, and in many cases are immigrants. Why are we willing to risk the lives of these people, but many advocate that no public school teachers should go back until the coronavirus risk is zero? Why are their lives any less worthy than that of a district member of the Cambridge Education Association?
Equity of students
Many of our teachers have fought tirelessly to achieve a better future for our students. This year, 418 students have left the district, according to a School Committee budget workshop held Jan. 14, breaking down to 294 elementary students and 130 high school students, or a 7.6 percent and 6.6 percent decrease. respectively. Meanwhile, the number of upper school students increased by 11 (a 0.9 percent increase). What does this mean? My naive interpretation is that families with resources have left. Historically, there has been a drop from elementary to upper schools, suggesting upper schoolers include those from families that are more resource-constrained than those of elementary students and high schoolers.
When resource-rich families exit, we are left with families that depend on the district for education. Inequality doesn’t exist only among public school students. By not reopening our public schools, are we not exacerbating inequalities between public and private school students? Inequality doesn’t exist only among Cambridge students. By not reopening our pubic schools, are we not exacerbating inequalities between district students and neighboring school districts that provide in-school education for those students who need it to thrive? How is this breaking equity barriers?
Inequality among supervision of students
Teachers are educators. But someone has to supervise our students. When public school teachers don’t supervise our students, working parents have a limited set of alternatives. Working parents with means either: send their kids to private schools; or hire nannies and babysitters. For some, private schools and even nannies may be prohibitively expensive. Moreover, given that the average salary of a district teacher in 2018 was more than $88,101 with added benefits, many of us cannot afford to offer the same type of salary, health insurance and sick leave policy. In turn, women are exiting the workforce. Moreover, many child care providers are women and minorities. How does closing the public schools mitigate risk? Are we not shifting the risk to mostly minorities and women caregivers, who are more likely than not to be less well paid, have worse health insurance and have a less generous sick-leave policy than district teachers?
Lack of compassion for teachers
In the Jan. 19 meeting of the School Committee, we learned that 75 teachers were denied accommodations to teach remotely, though 32 were granted them due to medical issues, 272 due to personal reasons and 192 due to child care reasons. By virtue of being parents, we all have child care issues. Most of our jobs do not grant us the ability to work from home solely due to them, so forgive us in not believing that the district is an ungenerous employer.
The Cambridge Public School District is well-resourced. In 2019, its total expenditure on students ranked sixth in the state, with each child allocated $29,476, far above some neighboring districts such as Brookline ($20,543), Newton ($20,220), Lexington ($18,687) and Wellesley ($25,846). In the proposed budget by superintendent Kenneth Salim, salaries and benefits make up 82.3 percent of the total budget ($175.8 million of $213.7 million). The Covid-19 supplemental appropriation budget is an extra $9.2 million dollars. Moreover, our city has already spent $5 million to improve the schools to ensure its safety.
Students from Grades 4 up are expected to participate in weekly Covid-testing – and it’s twice a week for high school students. District staff have already been offered free testing twice a week. No health care workers or store employees, who are considered essential workers, are offered these benefits. We have six cases of in-school transmission, which works out to be about a one in 10,000 chance. Our school district has taken far more precautions than many in the nation.
Those of us who send our children to school have weighed the tremendous amounts of benefits and risks. We feel the steps taken by the district far outweighs any safety precautions we can provide in our homes, where many of us need to rely on young adults as temporary babysitters for child care. Do we expect them to be more responsible than a district employees?
Student representation and white supremacy
Documents from the CEA last week say, “The district’s reopening process and plans have been consistently rooted in white supremacy culture, the dominant norms and behaviors that promote white supremacy regardless of our intentions, as evident throughout district reopening planning.” We should all work to be antiracist, and I hope our educators reinforce the antiracist work that we do in our homes.
Let us take a look at the statistics in our school district. According to the Educators of Color Coalition, 46 percent of African-American students and 62 percent of white students chose to attend in-person classes. Using the same calculation, 54 percent of Asians, 51 percent of Hispanics and more than half of multiracial non-Hispanic students also chose to be in school. When the coalition includes Asian and Hispanic educators as part of its membership but does not include the same demographics when calculating in-school students, how does that make the families of these students and students themselves feel? Do Asian, Hispanic and multiracial non-Hispanic students no longer matter because we don’t fit into your narrative? Of the students who are in person, 51 percent are minorities, or about 672 minority students. Are policies enacted by a school district serving majority nonwhite students steeped in white supremacy?
It is easy to look at race and make assumptions about our needs. But let’s use the only category we have for needs: students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Of the total 1,316 students choosing to be in-person, 406 (31 percent) qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Of the total 1,059 students choosing remote classes, 413 (39 percent) qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Is serving our students, some of whom might be suffering from food insecurity, steeped in white supremacy?
CEA and white supremacy
The district announced Salim’s hiring on Oct. 27, 2015. In the 2014-2015 academic year, white teachers accounted for approximately 77 percent of all staffing (or 977 out of 1,252 full-time equivalent positions). In the 2019-2020 academic year, white teachers accounted for 71 percent (or 1,007 out of 1,415). The percent of minority teachers grew by 8% under Salim’s leadership. How are these hiring practices an indication of white supremacist tendencies?
The members of the CEA should exercise some introspection and examine their own leadership.
Educators of color make up almost 30 percent of our school district, yet zero percent on the leadership level of CEA, which includes president Dan Monahan; vice president Billy McDonald; treasurer Bobby Travers; and secretary Liz Vincent, three of whom are white (or white passing). In contrast, Salim is a son of Indonesian immigrants, and our School Committee is majority minority: Out of seven members, Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui is Pakistani-American; vice chair Manikka Bowman is Black; member Jose Luis Rojas is Mexican-American; and member Ayesha Wilson is Black. That’s at least 57 percent minority representation on the committee, compared with a quarter among CEA leadership.
Approximately 79 percent of our educators are female (1,115 out of 1,415). Yet, only a quarter of the CEA leadership is female. In contrast, once again, our committee is majority female with Siddiqui, Bowman, Wilson and Rachel Weinstein. That’s 57 percent female representation for the committee, compared with a quarter among CEA leadership.
In committee leadership, we have our mayor, a Pakistani-American woman, and Bowman, a Black woman. By contrast, CEA president Monahan is a white man, as is vice president McDonald. So that’s 100 percent female and minority leadership at the highest level at the committee, and zero percent female and zero percent minority for the CEA.
Representation matters. On the first day of in-person school, I watched as parents whispered to their children that the mayor and superintendent came to welcome them back to school. In the world of our young students, having a female mayor is the norm; having a minority mayor and a minority superintendent is the norm. As parents, we know it is not the norm outside our bubble. The path to leadership is hard for people of color. The path to leadership is hard for women.
I’ve heard the word “trust” being used over and over again. How do you expect us to trust when our teachers, whom we expect to teach our children to be antiracists, participate in a powerful union whose membership is more than 70 percent white but seeks to rebuke a School Committee that 57 percent minority and an Asian-American superintendent? How is calling the school reopening process rooted in white supremacy culture – without evidence of such – helping us dismantle racism?
To the Educators of Color Coalition
To the Educators of Color Coalition: Why is there no representation of you at the leadership level at the CEA?
To the Educators of Color Coalition: Collective bargaining occurs with the CEA leadership. Why do you feel unheard when your representative, Dan Monahan, is in constant communication with the superintendent?
To the Educators of Color Coalition: As indicated in the CEA letter, we don’t know what Salim discloses to the School Committee. But we also don’t know what the CEA discloses to you. Ask yourselves whether your grievances are being weaponized by an organization that has 75 percent white leadership against a School Committee with 57 percent minority leadership and an Asian-American superintendent.
To the Educators of Color Coalition, we are more than just our occupation. Why are the 30 percent minority educators being used as tools against a School Committee with 57 percent minority leadership, an Asian-American superintendent and student families that are 60 percent minority?
We are all in it together
Parents of public schools are educators’ biggest allies. We want our children to be safe. Those students who are remote absolutely should be; but those of us who choose to send our kids to school aren’t heartless – we’ve watched our children struggle with mental health. We are your physicians stressing over taking care of patients; we are pediatricians horrified at watching child after child come into emergency rooms due to increased levels of suicidal ideation. We are your therapists comforting children, but knowing full well that we cannot replace the love you shower our kids with in school. We are your neighborhood grocery workers and delivery drivers, ensuring that you have food. We are your vaccine scientists, working hard to ensure that we can reach herd immunity. We are the parents of Cambridge Public Schools, and we have never stopped taking care of you and your family.
We love our children, and we know our educators do too. If teachers are not safe and healthy, our children can feel it. If educators get sick, classrooms shut down. Our goals are aligned: to keep our students and all staff members safe. Your success is our success. We are in it together.
The author of this letter, a district parent and member of an ethnic minority, requested anonymity for fear of becoming a target as a result of speaking to sensitive issues of race.
This post was updated Jan. 26, 2021, to correct that Cambridge Education Association secretary Liz Vincent should not have been described as “white (or white passing)” and to adjust subsequent calculations based on association leadership race.