Jenn Smith | Recess: What's next?

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What's next?

An ongoing pandemic has surged in this past week, and, for once these days, I'm not talking about the coronavirus.

Racism, discrimination and inequity are all preexisting conditions of the coronavirus outbreak, have been just as deadly, even more painful and are exponentially more enduring.

Once again, in the wake of the widely publicized deaths of African Americans by charges of police brutality (George Floyd, Breonna Taylor) and vigilantism gone horribly wrong (Ahmaud Arbery), people have taken to the streets with signs, sadness, outrage and exhaustion to say "enough" and "no more."

But again, I ask: What's next?

And how are we talking about it with our youth?

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When schools reopen, there will be much more to worry about than just face masks and hand sanitizer.

There's a quality of equality in everyone having to adapt to these practices of the "new normal." But unless they're kept in the forefront of decision-making — from staffing and training to course offerings and curriculum planning — the savage inequities of race, class, ability and access will likely remain unchanged.

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I've often heard adults joking how being under coronavirus "lockdown" feels like being stuck in the movie, "Groundhog Day," but true experiences of trauma and oppression are no laughing matter and certainly not worth repeating. Lockdown drills and shelter-in-place orders happen in Berkshire County schools on a regular basis because the kids are not all right. They are regularly under threat of violence, unto themselves or by others, by breakdown or by bullying. For many students, being locked down is not a trend, it's routine existence.

Here are some facts from which we can't socially distance ourselves:

- In Massachusetts, in 2010, nearly 70 percent of students were white. Now, white children make up just about 58 percent of the population. In Pittsfield, white students are now the minority in Conte, Crosby and Morningside elementary schools. Racially, ethnically, the majority of our classrooms are more diverse, in these ways and in others.

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* But in the state, there are more than eight times as many white teachers as there are African-American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, and multiracial teachers, combined.

* Nearly 49 percent of all the commonwealth's students are considered "high needs," meaning they face an economic disadvantage, a disability, a non-English language barrier, or a combination of these factors.

* Bay State Black and Latinx students are more than twice as likely to face an out-of-school suspension, compared to their white and Asian counterparts. This is not just an "urban" or Boston problem. Similar statistics hold up in Berkshire County, too.

Now you know. So, what's next?

Let me know your thoughts and ideas. I'm at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com, 413-629-4517 or @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter.


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