This summer, American teachers are drafting templates for messages on the inevitable illness and death that Trump-ordered school openings will bring.
Teachers across America are facing special challenges in addition to those of all of their neighbors this summer. COVID-19 must be reckoned with as teachers are responsible for the safety of our children.
Despite the fact that the spread of this virus has not been contained and cases are spiking in many areas, reckless politicians and spineless lackeys are forcing the mandate: “School must reopen.”
Arizona teacher Kimberly Lopez Chavez Byrd died after teaching a summer school class. Trump’s response when asked about it: “Schools should be opened. Schools should be opened. Those kids want to go to school. You’re losing a lot of lives by keeping things closed. We saved millions of lives while we did the initial closure.”
We are seeing the poorest management of this disease in the world. When the world has lost 605,000 and the U.S. has lost 143,000, something is utterly incompetent from the top down.
I know the sacrifices students, parents, and teachers make to ensure the promise of a better future that an education brings. Trump’s demand is nothing short of devastating cruel foolishness.
It is devastating because we know his orders will increase the duration and spread of a deadly virus that has already infected millions.
It is cruel because he refuses to care about the increased and unnecessary suffering of others.
And foolish because he continues to trust his gut—which is frequently wrong—instead of the advances achieved through the scientific method and evidence-based decision making.
I learned of the drowning death of a student of mine in our community college, and spent hours processing what to do. There is no good way to share the bad news of a classmate who will not be returning to class, and I struggled evaluating how to make the least traumatic terrible news delivery. How many times will teachers have to do this in the coming months?
I remembered the gross insensitivity I’d faced as a student and the promises I’d made to do better than certain faculty: I was graded down for a presentation I gave the day my brother died, because I seemed distracted. Now, as a teacher, I vowed I would do better. I did some reading on common responses and warning signs. I looked over group work and in-class activities to identify which students might have developed relationships. I spent most of the weekend to make sure I did not fail my students.
Now, of course, chances of more sickness, more hospitalization, and more deaths are more likely.
Trump’s forced reopening of schools will cause deaths of students, teachers, and their families. So I should alert everyone to the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, as they have guidance and advice for coping and dealing with the unthinkable. Their templates are for addressing students, parents, and staff in the unfortunate event of suicide or death from various causes.
Wim Laven, Ph.D. is a contributor to Peace Voice and teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution.