UTLA educators are eager to get back to classrooms where they can care for, laugh with, and most importantly, teach our students. But even more than teaching, our job in a pandemic is to keep students and communities safe. The eventual restarting of schools should be primarily about learning, not merely about the economy. Unlike other countries that recognize protecting lives is the key to protecting livelihoods, the United States has chosen to prioritize profits over people. The Trump administration’s attempt to force people to return to work on a large scale depends on restarting schools so parents have childcare.
Learning happens when students feel safe, and safety is only possible in a broader setting of community preparedness, requiring greater federal and state resources to support a strategy of physical distancing in small, isolated groups, with a strong emphasis on hygiene. When politicians exhort educators and other workers to “reignite the economy”, UTLA educators ask: who are you planning to use as kindling? The benefits to restarting schools must outweigh the risks, especially for our most vulnerable students and school communities.