Latino Parents Worry About Reopening Schools
For families across America, mid summer has traditionally been a time to start thinking about the upcoming fall classes. Over 50 million students were expected to enroll in the nation’s secondary schools this fall. But these are perilous times when the Covid crisis dominates many decisions and nearly every conversation.
School openings this September are expected to be chaotic in many American towns and cities. An ABC poll conducted on July 22-23 found that “a majority of all American adults [55%] are against public schools in their community reopening with in-school instruction in the fall.”
That Latino parents worry about the Covid crisis is not surprising. Texas has just reached 381,656 infections, making Texas the fourth largest state in the number of virus cases in the United States. With a death rate of 5,810 Texans, the Lone Star State surpassed a hospitalization and mortality rate greater than most
Houston, Dallas, and Fort Worth have experienced the greatest Covid increases over the past 60 days.
Houston, which has the largest medical complex in the world, is rapidly running out of ICU hospital beds. Bexar County had a significant increase in Covid cases between Memorial Day and July 22. The Bexar County Covid numbers from May to July are staggering: an increase from 1,374 cases on May 1 to 36,083 cases on July 27. In Bexar County the death rate increased from 48 in early May to 313 in mid-July.
As we readied for celebrating U.S Independence on the 4th of July, we learned that Covid cases in America had surpassed 50,000 cases in one day. Leading health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, predicted that we may soon see daily infection rates of over 100,000. If the Covid rate is indeed posed to double in the coming months, and September has been mentioned as a possible record setting month, how can we justify opening schools this fall?
The University of Texas School of Public Health recently concluded that a fragmented Covid-19 pandemic
response led to a decline in “trust in expertise and institutions.” Indeed, the response was horribly fragmented with significant differences in how cities and counties handled the pandemic. Ultimately, it was the poor response to the pandemic by our Texas political leaders, especially the governor and lieutenant governor, that first put parents in this state in a critical health dilemma.
Many schools remained open in February when Asian and European cities were closing schools and businesses. Thus, it was a failure by Texas officials to take the pandemic seriously earlier in the year which led to a disastrous business as usual approach during all of February and half of March as the virus was spreading worldwide.
The governor’s initial failure to close Texas business and schools was undertaken with little reliance on
scientific data or consultation with health experts. As a result, too many adults went about their daily lives, going to work and gathering in public places, without wearing masks or practicing social distancing. Many of the first to be infected were the essential workers laboring in jobs where Latinos are employed in high numbers such as meatpacking plants, restaurants, and food processing industries. In addition, service workers who cleaned offices and buildings or labored in warehouses grew sick by the day.
In mid March Texas state and local officials began to take the coronavirus seriously and ordered the closure of
most non-essential businesses, with the exception of liquor stores.
In mid May, state political leaders decided to take a risk, believing that the Covid pandemic had peaked.
They believed that a weak state economy was worse than a pending Covid crisis and thus prematurely allowed
non-essential private businesses such as bars, gyms, and restaurants to open. The opening of bars and gyms was particularly foolish, as epidemiologists who specialized in contagious diseases, considered those spaces to be a dangerous spreader of the virus.
Texas officials decided to defy science data as well as ignore the advice of national health experts and allowed large gatherings on Memorial Day weekend. In doing so, state officials contributed to the spread of the Covid crisis, and not surprisingly, Texas saw a new surge of the virus. At the same time, state officials erred in allowing local officials to decide on the question of when to reopen businesses and schools. The issue of when to open schools has perplexed all elected leaders. There is no agreement as to how and when schools should be opened.
A return to classes this fall will especially be hard for working parents. In several Texas cities Latinos make up the majority of young students attending public schools. Working parents are anxious about the coming school term. They want their children in school, but not if there’s a chance of getting sick with Covid-19.
I recently spoke to Amanda, a Latina neighbor of mine in San Antonio, about her concerns over the current plans to open schools in September. Amanda [not her real name] is deeply concerned: she has two school-age
children who are eager to get back into the classroom, but like their parents, they are anxious about when it might be safe to return. Amanda and her husband are both teachers and they worry about their own safety and
exposing their own children to the virus in the event that schools rush to open.
Many working Latino parents are not able to work remotely from home, and they need child care programs.
A Covid spike this Spring in childcare centers in Texas led to additional worries. Texas officials reported that at
the end of June there had been 576 Covid cases in the state’s childcare centers.
Latinos are admired for their strong family networks and the frequency in which they see one another. It is not uncommon for grandparents, aunts, cousins and other relatives to live with or in close proximity to each other. Covid-19 is already straining these relationships. There is growing concern among Latino parents that their children will become infected at school and bring the Covid virus to their household where extended family, especially grandparents, could be infected.
The growing health uncertainties of our times is making life ever more difficult for Latinos to balance work
Copyright 2020 by Dr. Ricard Romo. Photo of students walking copyrighted by Barrio Dog Productions. All other photos in the public domain.