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A livestream video of Judge Glen Whitley speaking to select parents inside the county commissioners’ courtroom was aired on a large flatscreen TV outside the Tarrant County Administration Office, where in July a couple dozen protestors clamored for school reopenings without restrictions. Edward Brown

Last week’s narrow vote by Fort Worth’s school board to re-open schools to in-person learning stands in sharp contrast to the school district’s professed commitment to racial equity.

As a scholar of race, a parent of Fort Worth ISD kids, a spouse of a school district educator, and a member of the district’s Racial Equity Committee, I remain very skeptical that schools can be reopened safely now or perhaps at any point this year. Much of the district staff’s planning has struck me as magical thinking, at best — or, in other moments, as outright lies.

From my personal vantage points, I know that schools before COVID lacked many of the basics needed for a safe and functional educational environment. Even the “best” schools on the West Side suffered from broken human social systems and lacked basic physical resources. There were never enough adults in the building and never enough substitutes available to fill in (and teacher absenteeism will only rise now). Teachers had time only for a few minutes of before- or after-school supervision or lunch duty. Bus drivers were underpaid and poorly managed. Hallways were crowded and chaotic. At my kids’ school, the bathrooms were often dirty, and they rarely had soap. This was all before the shutdown. How can we expect such a dramatic turnaround now, after little or no systemic work on such gaps over the summer and with frontline staff and faculty morale at an all-time low?

Max Krochmal is Associate Professor of History at Texas Christian University.
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In addition to these practical concerns, there are also myriad ethical arguments regarding racial equity. First, inequity existed before COVID and will persist after it’s over, but it’s clear that the district is now doing more than ever to address some basic issues such as access to technology (e.g., the widespread distribution of Chromebooks and hot spots) and social-emotional well-being. (Social workers and mental health specialists have begun making front-porch home visits, for example, that never took place before the pandemic.)

Second, we know that COVID disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities and that our district is composed of about 90% Black and Brown students. These students are more likely than whites to live in multigenerational families with vulnerable members. There are also a growing number of Black and Latinx teachers and school employees — the precise people the district seeks to recruit, retain, and advance in FWISD — who are also parents and members of multigenerational families.

Putting them back to school and work promises to turn the terrible inconvenience and tragedy of COVID so far into a full-blown humanitarian disaster.

Last, but certainly not least, the district’s default decision-making processes have long prioritized the needs of wealthy white families (a tiny percentage of the district) over the voices of the massive Black and Brown super-majority, and the current moment promises to exacerbate this trend. Like the larger phenomenon of whiteness, this pattern is often invisible, and it often creeps up without warning. It extends far beyond the board to inform the decisions of executive staff members starting with the superintendent on down to middle managers and even teachers on campuses.

But the bottom line is that the demands for “rigor” and “choice” and now “in-person” activities from the ultra-privileged have a habit of steamrolling other voices and our collective conversations on equity. We saw this in the more distant past with the establishment of magnet schools as an alternative to white flight amid the integration of neighborhood schools, and we saw it earlier this year when the boundary revision discussion rendered equity an afterthought rather than a centerpiece of more sweeping change. We see it now when wealthy white folks demand in-person learning, no matter the cost to marginalized students and all teachers (and their families).

The folks in Tanglewood, Benbrook, and — worse — those who have already abandoned FWISD are insulated from the full effects of COVID. They have health insurance. Consider that for a moment. Tens of thousands of FWISD families do not have any health insurance and will not be able to afford treatment if someone gets sick. The ultra-privileged also often have the means to pay for medical treatment, room to isolate at home if someone gets sick, and the ability to work from home and to hire housekeepers, tutors, nannies, and gardeners to do their dirty work. They can also afford to go out to restaurants and bars, to continue expensive club sports, and to engage in a wide range of risky activities that endanger not only themselves but also the rest of us. They are representative of nobody but themselves. And they are used to getting whatever they want, whenever they want. We must end this pattern if we wish to achieve equity in our district.

Worse than their unacknowledged privilege is the other side’s dripping paternalism and, yes, racism toward Black and Brown families. They have taken the few instances of domestic abuse (not a new phenomenon) and concluded that Black and Brown kids are safer in unsanitary schools (see: above) than they are with their own extended families, the precise social networks that have allowed them to survive institutional racism for the past century or more.

The other side posits without subtlety that Black and Brown kids are essentially neglected, but their real motivation is more sinister. Like Mayor Betsy Price, they need the schools to open so that they can go back to their own jobs and hobbies, so that their own employees have free state-supported childcare. They really don’t care how many teachers and Black and Brown families they infect or kill to get the economy running again — to restore their profit margins to pre-COVID levels.

But let’s be clear: It is not the job of schools — and certainly not equity-minded school leaders — to provide unsafe childcare to Black and Brown families so that white people can profit.

The other side also makes a series of baseless arguments about the public health situation. They cite statistics of child infection and mortality rates that are woefully inadequate. To be sure, younger kids have gotten COVID and suffered its consequence at a lesser rate when compared to adults, but that’s only a correlation: Younger also means less sick. One indisputable cause of these lower rates is that kids have stayed home since March, thereby lessening the chances that they would come into contact with the virus. Put another way, the other side misunderstands cause and effect — or in scholarly terms, they conflate causation and correlation. They also ignore Tarrant County’s School Re-Opening Dashboard, which currently displays red for the entire square, thus recommending virtual learning for all students county-wide. And it’s worth remembering that, despite the last few weeks with downward trends, the number of new cases right now still exceeds the rates that closed schools into June.

Proponents of in-person schooling argue that they deserve a choice, and they note that parents who wish to keep their kids in virtual classrooms will maintain that option under the re-opening plan. Yet this argument fails to recognize that public health is, by definition, a collective good and that individuals who choose risky behaviors endanger everyone else. Like it or not, we are all in this together. School leaders must create a uniform policy that protects all of its students rather than allowing a handful of parents who are the loudest and have the most resources to do whatever they want regardless of the consequences for teachers, janitors, and other, often already marginalized students.

For practical, ethical, and statistical reasons, we need to delay in-person learning as long as we can for the benefit of all people in our community. The Fort Worth school district may even need to take the fight to the state, rather than operating within the ideological constraints imposed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the state’s criminal attorney general.

At the very least, Fort Worth ISD should request a waiver from the state and push back the start date as far as possible. In my view, this is the only way for members of the school board to vote if they are truly in favor of racial equity.

The school board will re-examine the situation tonight/Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. The meeting will be held via webinar due to COVID-19 concerns. Watch on Spectrum Channel 192 or Fort Worth ISD’s YouTube channel or by using this link (passcode: 379314). To comment publicly, call 817-814-1956 to register anytime before the meeting.

Max Krochmal is Associate Professor of History at Texas Christian University, where he also co-founded the Department of Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies. He serves as a volunteer co-chair of the FWISD Board-appointed Racial Equity Committee.

 

26 COMMENTS

  1. Wow. I disagree with you wholeheartedly, but I wish you could have made your points without completely bashing and making assumptions about the other side. A more constructive opinion piece would have included your ideas on ways to help schools who need soap, substitutes, and anything else. I feel like you are just complaining and trying to make others look and feel bad who disagree with you. The fact that you think virtual learning will equalize education is asinine. Have you really considered the ramifications of placing a kindergartener in front of a screen and keeping them there for the next 13 years? There would be zero social development and in no way prepared to handle being around people. There are plenty of studies that would confirm that. You write beautifully- please consider writing to convince people to consider being a FWISD substitute or to ask a large company to donate supplies to you child’s school. Writing divisive pieces like this one helps no one.

  2. This opinion piece does no good in trying to determine the ultimate best choice for all involved.
    But what’s worse is that with one hand you tout equity (Which I disagree with – don’t bring everyone down to the level of the lowest. Instead allow the lowest to lift themselves up to be the highest. Cue John McWhorter) While with the other hand declare blanket judgements about “the other side” quite literally making the very racists statements you are fighting against.

  3. I agree, FWISD is not ready. Many campuses are under construction and don’t even have warm for parts of the day. A high school campus has COVID cases and there is no communication or transparency for the people currently on campus, much less those coming soon. The collateral effects are not being taken seriously. Morale is suffering and will continue on the decline and that doesn’t make for the best learning environment for the students. Opening schools isn’t going to restore normalcy.

  4. So FWISD is racist if we give our children a proper education and send them to school? What about the thousands of school around the world that have reopened or will reopen soon? Is COVID just so much worse in FTW TX than anywhere else in the US/World?? Blows my mind! I’m pretty sure with your professor salary you can afford a private teacher for your child but my children are suffering from virtual learning. My 10th grader has learning disabilities and is failing because HE needs hands on learning. My kinder says she hates school everyday because I give year old does CANNOT sit in front of a screen for four hours a day. I need to be able to work to FEED my kids. Why are white/brown/black people being vilified for wanting our kids to go to school???

  5. The lady at the forefront of the photograph is my mother, a Mexican immigrant that has 20 percent lung capacity. She went to the protest to get schools open for her grandchildren. I am also a Mexican immigrant And Jewish, or brown person as you like to call us, and I humbly ask that all perspectives be shared not only the ones that conveniently fit your critical race theory. I am a hard worker and so is everyone in my family, including the ones that are here illegally and don’t have health insurance. Using us as “brown” pawns to further your opinion is divisive, hateful, and offensive. I ask that we work as a community to create unity so that we can model ho to work together and not against each other. All children need to learn math and reading so that they can be critical thinkers and contributing members of society. I teach my children to not see color but look for values and morals in others. I ask we work together to teach all children the above.

  6. You have made assumptions about groups of peoples’ character, motivation, values, and financial status based solely on the color of their skin.
    You are the exact definition of a racist.

    My prayer for you is that you begin exercising the effort look beyond the color of someone’s skin. The human experience is so far beyond a control research group at TCU Perhaps you could consider investing in relationships that exist in a world beyond your Uber elite University, and your own faith, and your own political affiliation.

    Such a shame to see the contempt & hatred you preach.

  7. My worry is not covid but instead the children who are not getting a meal at school, the ones being severely abused by dysfunctional parents, and lack of guidance and encouragement from their teachers. THINK of the CHILDREN. Not politics, not skin color, etc….but think of the children.

  8. Max Krochmal is correct, and the louder the cry of outrage, the more powerful demon of racism and privilege his words struck with their truths. The truth hurts.

    If you feel personally attacked, good. You’re the problem, and you have work to do.

  9. Oh yeah, Benbrook is totally the same as Tanglewood, LOL! That’s like comparing Old Navy to Neiman Marcus. Get real professor!

  10. Max, why stop at schools? If there is such a danger, don’t be hypocritical, shut everything down. Wal-Mart, Target, Quiktrip, 7-Eleven, Dollar General, Tom Thumb, Amazon, McDonalds, church, TCU, parks, libraries, Applebee’s, Wendy’s, Chicken Express, Home Depot, medical offices, hospitals (too dangerous even if you’re sick), rehab facilities, funeral homes, any field in the city (in case kids want to play), Albertsons, the Post Office, utility companies (not the actual utilities, just the people who work there who fix the utilities when they go out, so you definitely don’t want your utilities to go out), gas stations, just to name a few.

  11. Ok you’re supposedly in education and care about equity. Yet your idea is the antithesis of both! It is the poor families that are hurt the worse by staying virtual. Most of my white well off students have great WiFi, and all the resources needed to achieve in virtual education. However my students that are minority and lower income are absolutely struggling and begging to come back! You sir are projecting your politics on this and hurting all children. How dare you say you care for kids!

  12. When all your clothes are hand-me-downs and garage sale finds, Old Navy and Neiman Marcus may as well be the same thing. When you can’t access either, how are you supposed to know the difference? Check your privilege.

  13. Well, I think you have made some good points except constantly saying that everyone need not risk their health on fringe views that, according to you, are ultimately detrimental. This is where you might want to cut the other side a slack, they have not made a hasty decision. Apparently, the straggling pandemic will not be whisked off by people continuing to lock ourselves inside. The prospects are not very reassuring, but it is high time we took thought-through drastic measures.

  14. This is the most racist article I’ve ever read! “Whiteness” are you kidding me?? This is racism and CREATES RACISM! Parents are standing up for the social liberties of their children, and it became a race issue. Shocker. I think the real issue is Max, you clearly don’t know the people you’re GENERALIZING about and the communities you’re targeting. You’re creating division in a time we need one another. SHAME ON YOU MAX KROCHMAL!! People are dying and suffering in 2020 and you throw salt on the wounds. Children can’t fight for their freedom of education, their parents have to. Sad that a professor at TCU can’t stay focused on the real issues…

    If you’re reading this and aren’t from one of those communities or don’t know anyone over there — DON’T LET THIS ARTICLE FOOL YOU! There are good and bad people in every neighborhood, the ones mentioned are NO DIFFERENT. I can personally attest that there are some wonderful people who care about EVERYONE there.

    Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes, including low self-esteem.

    Remember the bully in school who told people lies about you so they wouldn’t like you? Who made you feel worthless? HIS NAME IS Max Krochmal!!!

  15. As a former student and now mother of students in FWISD, I agree with most of this article. I feel that FWISD has a long way to go in persuading me to send my children back to a school that was not only NOT fully equipped before the COVID outbreak but now. My kids will not be a risk nor a liability. And not a mayor, principal, police officer, judge nor internet police tell me otherwise. Until the threat is fully eradicated, my children will learn at home.

  16. Dr Krochmal, amazing hypocracy that you want to address racism by making overt racist remarks; that you purport your concern over certain races while displaying your hatred for another class. You are a self-described “race scholar” but use sloppy, unfounded generalizations about a race of people to make a point that is more about the agenda you wake up with every day. Your bias is so deep you don’t see that lower-income families have less resources to assist their children with in-home learning, notwithstanding the immense pressure on the parents to work. As an educator it is incumbent upon you to love people rather than concepts.

  17. Dude, you’re a professor at TCU. Btw, what kind of car do you drive? Because if it’s anything newer than mine, you’re a hypocrite…because I say so! Two can play this game.

  18. Well done! Great work showcasing the inherent inequity in our current system. My husband is an anti-imperialist history professor who talks extensively about the nature of American corruption and its dependence on racism (the American racial caste system.) We are well aware of the privilege associated with the option to stay home for the greater good. We have been able to work from home since March and grateful to do so for the less privileged among us who are forced to work by an abusive capitalist system. Bravo for the courage to speak truth.

  19. Max, why are you capitalizing the colors black and brown? You don’t capitalize white? This, along with your overall theme and tone in the article, show you are not for unity, as you have claimed and which is the name of one of the organizations you participate in. Creating unity and inclusion should be an inherent part of our society and culture, just like law and order, proper manners, and respect for one’s neighbor.
    Putting the mission of equity and inclusion above all others and at the expense of others does not, as history shows, achieve its mission. Rather, it divides and derides. The arrows are pointing in the right direction and they have been for decades. Change takes time, as you should know from your scholarly studies. Please don’t set us back in time by promoting this drivel. And certainly don’t bring your politics and one-sided beliefs into our cities school district.

  20. I go through the comments here and somehow it appears that all agree on the point that so steeped a review such as yours should have been devoid of tonal beats giving precedence to political leanings. Apparently, this transcends political ideologies.

  21. You should consider that this discussion interloop different boundaries. People are risking a lot on this and it should not merely serve as fodder for intellectual gymnastics. The facts you need are out there on the streets, not something you get by parsing every differing political position.

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