Jackson Public Schools’ “Smart Restart” plan has students on-campus beginning Jan. 13 for the first time since March 2020. The decision to return to the classroom as the pandemic reaches its highest numbers has been a cause of great concern and confusion amongst many JPS educators.
Dr. Akemi Stout, president of the Jackson Federation of Teachers, spoke at the Dec. 1 Board of Trustees meeting, describing a lack of “transparency and collaboration” at JPS: “… trust takes engagement. … I’ve heard a lot of communication on the upper level, but … there’s not a lot of communication with those that truly matter on the front lines such as the custodians, but, more so, our educators … I really don’t feel that a lot of teachers, from what I’m hearing, feel safe.”
Chris Radiken, also with JFT shared some data at the meeting from a survey regarding the “Smart Restart.” When asked if union members felt their school or worksite would be prepared to accept students in January, 36 percent of respondents said their school would not be prepared and 29 percent said they were unsure.
The messages propagated by federal and state leaders, which are echoed by JPS Superintendent Dr. Erick Greene, is that “families need options” and “in-person learning is necessary for wellbeing and improved education.” This messaging ignores real community needs, attempts to shift the impossible burden to schools, and denies the voices and realities of teachers and school staff. Reopening campus at this time is pushed by racist capitalists and their tools so they can better continue their exploitation of poor, Black, and working-class people, all while endangering young lives and vital workers.
Mayor Lumumba has yet to speak on what accountability measures are in place to ensure that JPS’ decision-making during this unprecedented time aligns with his “Strategic Plan” for the city. A “Thriving Education System” is a key part of the plan as well as “Healthy Citizens” and “Affordable Homes.” Unfortunately, landlords evicted more Jackson tenants this year than last, despite the CDC moratorium.
Meanwhile, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves is proposing limiting funding to schools that do not have in-person classes. This proposal is one among several racist and reckless proposals he submitted. COVID-19 is ravaging the nation, especially in communities of color, our ICUs are full, but Reeves toes the Trump line so he expects students and educators to return to their underfunded schools. His proposals are not well-received by Mississippi education stakeholders. A survey from Mississippi Education United indicated 89 percent of respondents ranked Reeves’ proposal to limit funding to certain schools as “terrible” or “bad.”
Have the capital city superintendent and mayor confronted Governor Reeves about his recent racist proposals? Or are they silent and complicit in his racist leadership?
JPS leaders are making the decision to reopen campus because our racist capitalist system refuses to prioritize public health and safety, even during a global pandemic. Students and families need assurance of food, shelter and healthcare. They also deserve a safe, equitable, functional learning environment and support; but that is not possible without communication, funding and community support. White supremacist capitalism has not and will not support ALL the people of Mississippi.
We ALL must demand better.
Feature image: “Parents for Safe Schools Rally”, Mississippi, July 2020. Liberation photo