Voices: Parents Should Not Have to Make Public Health Decisions!!

Imagine me shouting into the abyss: Parents Should Not Have to Make Public Health Decisions!! We pay people to do this. Our tax dollars PAY for public health experts at the county, state, and federal level. Our tax dollars are supposed to PAY for equitable public education. Yet because we’d rather fund billionaires, oil wars, shopping malls, luxury housing complexes, and racist abusive police; and because we choose to fund some school districts and not others, PARENTS are left to scramble to figure out not only what’s best for our kids, but what is best (or rather what’s less terrible) for the collective.

In particular, parents in impoverished districts like Syracuse have to decide whether to send our kids to school during a pandemic, when it is clear we don’t have the funding to do what’s required to make it safe. Long before school buildings closed in March, Governor Andrew Cuomo owed SCSD approximately $4.1 Billion in foundation aid, and our highest court ruled the state has failed to provide the “sound basic” education Syracuse children are entitled to under the Constitution. Buildings were already crowded and understaffed, with insufficient supports to serve youth from the poorest Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in the country, and now Cuomo has told us to expect another 20% cut in funding.

My timeline is full of Syracuse teachers who are also shouting into the abyss, telling us there’s no way to educate our kids in these buildings and do what’s required to stop the disease from spreading. They are in an impossible situation, forced to decide between their health and their job, which is often their calling in life. Many of them are also parents. They want to be there for their students but they also don’t want to risk lives.

Many families rely on schools to educate and keep their children safe and fed while they work essential jobs with no remote option, and they are not set up to homeschool or hire private tutors to supervise distance learning in “pods” with other families. These duties often fall on older siblings, who themselves may be essential workers while also attending virtual school.

Parents who “can” make the “choice” to keep children home are having to consider whether we should do so for the collective good, so in-person learning can prioritize the children of essential workers whose families will starve or become homeless without their jobs, and kids with disabilities who need in-person services. At the same time, pulling privileged kids will further segregate our communities, and remove parents who have the time and privilege to advocate for better conditions from the public system at a time when they are needed most.

Why is this all on our shoulders? Where are our leaders? Who are we going to replace them with? Imagine if we had a Secretary of Education who surrounded herself with the brightest minds and latest research, who created a workable solution and channeled funding where it is most needed, so individual parents, teachers, and school districts across the country didn’t have to waste valuable time, energy, and resources figuring out the same problems all at once? I am happy to pay my share of taxes. I’m even willing to pay higher taxes IF those funds actually provide systems that work.

I don’t expect perfection, but we could do a whole lot better than this if there wasn’t so much riding on our school systems that has nothing to do with education, if we truly valued education, if we truly valued all lives, etc. We can find a way to equitably educate everyone, feed everyone, control disease spread, make sure folks are safely housed and have basic healthcare. We have the knowledge, ability, and wealth to do so. We just don’t want to.

Annabel Hine Otts