Coronavirus Pandemic, Racial Inequality, and Economic Disparity in Schools
During what should be a season of thanksgiving and celebration, coronavirus casualties continue to climb, schools are reclosing, and some Americans fear a vaccine under the Trump administration could do more harm than good.
On November 19, 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), announced that two vaccines may become available by the end of December 2020. As of last week, the vaccines have rolled out, first to the UK, and now to Americans.
The Only Way to Prove Vaccines are Effective
Moderna and Pfizer have completed trials with efficacious rates that are almost as high as the measles vaccine effective rate. Moderna’s vaccine is found to be 94.5 percent efficacious and Pfizer’s is found to be 95 percent efficacious, compare that to the measles 98 percent effective rate and it sounds as if the coronavirus vaccine will be safe.
Fauci was careful to use the word efficacious, as opposed to effective, to describe the coronavirus vaccine because it has only been tested in a clinical trial. The word effective describes the ultimate impact on society, which can only be determined when people actually take the vaccine. Therefore, we know the measles vaccine to be effective; however, the coronavirus vaccine is only thought to be efficacious, at this point. A recent Gallup poll revealed that 42 percent of Americans will not take a coronavirus vaccine.
Trust is a necessary ingredient to test the effectiveness of the vaccine.
The problem is that, over the past four years, many Americans lost trust in a government that touts misinformation, disguises lies as the truth, and supports a leader who uses governmental powers for personal gain. According to former national security advisor John Bolton, Trump has no philosophy, no strategy, and no policies in place to ensure the national security of Americans. It is no surprise then, that under the Trump administration the United States leads the world with over 13 million COVID-cases, 264,000 American casualties as of today, and averages 1,000 deaths per day, more than any other advanced nation.
President-elect Joe Biden said that approximately 200,000 more American lives could be lost before a vaccine is reviewed and approved by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The most vulnerable Americans, hit the hardest by the coronavirus, continue to be ignored by the outgoing Trump administration, this includes Black and Latinx Americans, as well as those who live in poverty, the elderly, and those with underlying health conditions. All demographic groups that Trump does not prioritize in policies related to health care, immigration, and law enforcement.
Biden’s Strategy to Stop the Spread of the Coronavirus and End the Pandemic
However, President-elect Joe Biden vows to make the most vulnerable Americans one of his top priorities in getting the virus under control. The Biden-Harris team has already formed a Coronavirus Transition Advisory Board to reduce the spread of the virus and to save lives. The advisory board is composed of experts in global health security and assures to make public health decisions based upon a “bedrock” of science, according to Biden.
The Biden-Harris administration is also establishing a COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force to address inequalities in the public health industry and an imbalance in the economic response amongst people of color. At the end of the pandemic, this task force will transfer into the Infectious Disease Racial Disparities Task Force.
Biden also pledges to immediately restore the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, a board that Trump disbanded in 2018. Under the Biden presidency, every American will receive rapid testing, free vaccinations, and clear and concise guidance for sending kids to school during the pandemic. States, cities, and tribes will receive tests and supplies needed to function safely during the pandemic, and a mask mandate will be implemented along with restrictions on the size of gatherings. The National Guard will be deployed to help communities struggling to contain the coronavirus and a renewable fund will be established for state and local governments to support their teachers and first responders.
Biden has already announced appointments in national security and foreign relations and has named Janet Yellen as treasury secretary. According to the Washington Post, Alejandro Mayorkas is set to be the first immigrant nominated to head the Department of Homeland Security; and Avril D. Haines is set to be the first woman nominated to be the director of national intelligence.
Crisis Exposed in Education
During the presidential debates, education was not discussed. This begs the question, does Biden have a strategy in place to end the pre-existing racial and economic inequality in our schools that has been exposed during the pandemic?
Educators are eager to learn who Biden will nominate as the 12th secretary of education for the United States of America. Considering the current state of crisis in the American educational system, it is crucial that the nominee be someone who is experienced with working with children who are the victims of oppression and who are born into poverty. These groups have been marginalized for decades in the educational system and are nearly invisible in the curriculum. There is also an imbalance in the teaching force due to the disproportionate amount of teachers who enter the teaching field; currently, 80 percent of teachers who teach Black and brown students are white, middle class suburbanites who may not understand the unique challenges many children face who live in poverty, many of which lack a support system at home, lack additional resources and tutoring, and often lack a quiet, safe space to engage in learning. During the school closures, many also lacked appropriate electronic devices to participate in distance learning and therefore fell further behind their affluent peers, placing them at-risk of reading failure.
In addition to at-risk students, there are those who are high-risk. These are the children who live in deep poverty. They usually come from a single-parent home and may have been exposed to gangs, drugs, alcohol, or gun violence.
They deal with issues that many educators are not aware of or have not been trained to properly address. One issue a child could be dealing with is, Transgenerational Epigenetic Inheritance, or TEI, which is stress inherited from a parent. Impoverished children could be born into situations so stressful that it is embedded into their DNA. Schools are not prepared to handle this phenomenon, and are only equipped to track and suspend these children when they do not comply with social norms. Another concern that high-risk children are dealing with is toxic stress, which is strong, frequent prolonged adversity in the home, seven days a week such as physical or emotional abuse or chronic neglect. Toxic stress is also experienced when a caregiver is dealing with substance abuse or mental illness. The child is dealing with these burdens without adequate support from an adult. In addition to this, high-risk children may also have to deal with intersectionality, which is a cross-section of a student’s social and political identities. They may be experiencing discrimination on a daily basis due to their gender, race, class, sexuality, religion, disability, or physical appearance.
When these issues are not properly addressed, a disconnect exists between schools and the communities they serve.
In 2001, this disconnect only deepened when the high stakes testing policy implemented under President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind education reform compounded the challenges faced by high-risk students. The irony is that those at-risk and high-risk are left behind on state tests because, thanks to this policy, a school’s success is now measured by whether or not they are making adequate yearly progress on the school’s report card. Students are placed in four categories on the school’s report card: Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and Level 4. However, only Level 2’s, 3’s, and 4’s are counted in the adequate progress formula. A school gets no credit for Level 1 students. When a high-risk, Level 1 student is not counted, educators and administrators are not expected to devote time and resources toward these children. They are basically invisible.
Principals are tasked with bringing their high Level 1’s up to a Level 2 and their 2’s up to a 3, and their 3’s up to a Level 4. Therefore, the low Level 1’s who are dealing with a range of issues and are often absent from school, are left out of the equation, despite needing the most intervention to mitigate their academic and social delays.
For decades it has been known that the United States government determines the number of prisons to build based upon the third and fourth-grade reading scores of the lowest-achieving children. However, instead of spending money on building prisons, the incoming secretary of education would do well to fix the current funding formula to address the racial and economic disparities that perpetuate the haves and the have-nots.
The current formula for dispersing funding to schools with the highest number of at-risk students continues to be disproportionate. It only takes a drive down the street to notice the disparities between a suburban public school and a city public school. Families that cannot afford to live in the suburbs are forced to send their kids to a school with substandard building facilities and may even lack the latest, scientifically-based learning programs and materials. It is legal segregation based upon geographic location and economic inequality.
The new secretary of education under the Biden administration can address these systemic gaps in the educational system and bring balance to the racial and economic disparities that exist by allocating resources toward programs and services that are tested and proven to be effective in closing the achievement gap and providing robust opportunities to advance learning in schools where the majority of students are poor, Black, and at-risk of being left behind.
Dr. Silvia M. Lloyd is CEO of SL Public Relations and Co-Founder at Edusite Scholars. She is an author and specializes in COVID-19 Crisis Management. Speaker, program developer, curriculum writer who specializes in researching and writing on the Black experience.
Comments or Questions? Want to share your educational experience with COVID? I cordially invited you to reach out! All respectful, on-topic comments are welcome.