Dear Mayor Narkewicz and Members of the School Committee:
We want to thank you all for the enormous effort and long hours you have put forth on behalf of our community. You must be flooded with people’s ideas, questions, feelings, and demands.
REAL’s focus is on the needs of Black, Indigenous, and people of color; underserved families; and students with special needs. While these needs are synonymous with the health and safety needs of the whole community, they need to be addressed in creative and deliberate ways. Let’s together commit to centering race, class, and ability in any remote or hybrid option.
We would like to know how the district is reaching out to families whose voices are rarely at the table, so that their experiences and needs are known. We know that online surveys don’t reach many of these families, nor are these voices often in Zoom meetings. While it is likely that the voices of white parents who are the majority in town will be the loudest, we are extremely concerned that the needs of students and caregivers most affected by racism and other structural inequities be centered now. We would like to know what NPS is doing to ensure it is getting input directly from BIPOC families. In addition, we would like to know how students’ direct input on their needs and concerns are being considered. While all students should arguably have a way to participate–in age-appropriate ways–in shaping their own education, we are particularly concerned that BIPOC high school students be given real ways to influence the decisions being made right now about their futures, during this time of unprecedented change and challenge.
We are also concerned about how the district will help families access care and resources if these families want to choose the remote option or, in a hybrid model, when they are not in school. Childcare, for example, is something that will be desperately needed by many families if they are to go with 100% remote education. And of course, there is a huge divide between families that can access care and those that can’t, which will only deepen during this time. Families that lack access to solid internet connectivity will also need adequate support. What is the district’s plan for accommodating families with these needs?
Another equity-related issue around reopening is the formation of “pandemic pods” facilitated by private tutors, which we’re hearing about across the district and U.S. and which promise to exacerbate existing inequities between more affluent (and often white) students and those who have fewer resources due to our country’s historical and ongoing oppressive structures. How can we support equity in these sorts of arrangements? Can administration play a role (see last two paragraphs about a public school in San Francisco that is setting up pods for all students)? Can caregivers help develop solutions? Can mutual aid/resource pooling factor in? A group of NPS parents and educators met recently to start this conversation, which has us recognizing that there is a great deal of interest here for supporting equity in remote education. We were also excited to learn about a resource, Equity in Pandemic Schooling: An Action Guide for Families, Educators & Communities, that offers promising concrete actions toward equitable reopening, many of which can be tackled in less than an hour.
The town hall meetings held over the past week could have provided a real opportunity for sharing ideas that support an equitable reopening, but instead they felt like a list of answers to FAQs, with no chance for authentic discussion and sharing. How can we connect with others across the district? What if we had an online platform/community where caregivers could post, for example, about an outdoor science activity they’re looking to do and invite other interested families to join? What if there were a way for families that need something to reach out to others, like in the case of this mutual aid network map that was created earlier in the pandemic, by local volunteers still actively fundraising and coordinating childcare efforts?
We are aware that many educators have signed on in support of the ideas and demands expressed in a letter from the Cambridge Educators of Color Coalition. We also fully support these sentiments, including the call that “those most affected by a design solution should be prioritized in designing it.” We know that COVID-19 has disproportionately harmed people from Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities and people with less economic means. We have a responsibility to center those voices and concerns, and to make decisions that prioritize the safety of those most at risk.
The School Committee recently adopted an anti-racism resolution. If we as a community are going to follow through on that commitment, we must make conversations about equity front and center in every decision we make, including about reopening. We must be vigilant and persistent in asking ourselves and others, “How might this particular decision impact people based on race, class and ability?” To do anything less is to fail to serve a significant number of our district’s families–and our school community as a whole.
As always, REAL welcomes active collaboration with School Committee members and district administrators who want to work together to become an intentionally anti-racist district.
REAL Northampton (which represents over 200 NPS caregivers, students, teachers, and staff)