Damali Vidot, Chelsea City Councilor At-Large and current candidate for State Representative of Charlestown and Chelsea, says the state’s guidelines for school re-openings show a “clear crisis in leadership.”
“It’s just not clear to me that you can effectively begin schooling and carry out the necessary instruction effectively with the current state of planning that so many schools and districts are in”, said Councilor Vidot. “The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) guidelines are nothing more than suggestions without resources. Suggestions without funding is a huge red flag for school districts, like ours in the Second Suffolk.”
In a district that includes the COVID-19 hot-spot in Massachusetts, parents teachers, and communities have identified a number of major concerns. Because the DESE issued guidelines without funding, questions remain unanswered around securing enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for all schools, institute adequate planning, procure additional resources such as school buses, air filters, additional space for proper social distancing, or increased access to technology to expand remote learning risks forcing school districts to open before being ready to do so.
“There is an absolute need to educate our students after a chaotic Spring,” particularly as it relates to “the educational inequities faced by our most vulnerable communities that were magnified during this crisis,” said Vidot. However, “we also can’t use our children as guinea pigs. That’s effectively what the reopening guidelines are leading us towards. We simply don’t know enough and yet are taking action without enough scientific guidance to light the path.”
Councilor Vidot applauded the leadership of teachers’ unions for centering the needs of the families, teachers, workers and communities—and acknowledged how far we have to go still.
“I’m grateful for the work of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the Massachusetts chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, and the Boston Teachers Union,” she said, “for winning an additional 10 days to plan for school openings here in the Commonwealth. Our children, families, administrators, and school support staff deserve the confidence of returning to a safe learning environment. I’m just not confident we’re there yet.”
She went on to highlight that education is about so much more than just teaching our students, reflecting on the fact that education is also about childcare during working hours for parents. It’s also about, as we saw so clearly during COVID-19’s peak in the Commonwealth, food and nutrition for students. Although it’s impossible to have a perfect answer amidst a global pandemic, Vidot stressed that there are “simply too many perfectly realistic scenarios for which we have no reasonable answer to in the event of a COVID outbreak in our schools. What happens when there are inevitable setbacks?”
COVID-19 is certainly unprecedented for us all. But what is clear to Vidot despite the uncertainty of the pandemic is that “prioritizing safety and PPE, contact tracing, rapid testing, and equitably funding schools so that remote learning can be achieved effectively should be the focus” before rushing into school buildings by September 16, the state’s new guideline.
Vidot stated that “the crisis in leadership that I saw unfold in Massachusetts during COVID-19 is exactly what inspired me to run for office in the first place.” She added that “we need bold, effective, and community-driven leadership to move through this crisis together. I’m ready to work with the residents of the Second Suffolk to develop plans for our schools that are safe, equitable, and sensible.”