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By Nehemiah D. Frank, founder and editor-in-chief 

Trump’s rallies are driving Covid-19 numbers up because he doesn’t enforce mask-wearing at his events. Even more disturbing, none of the Republicans are holding him accountable for his reckless actions. The White House’s abysmal handling of this pandemic may undoubtedly be poising the better judgment of school officials across the country.  

At Tuesday’s Tulsa Public School Board of Education meeting, school officials voted a return to in-person learning despite the growing cases of regional and state Covid infections. 

Per it’s Facebook post, “The Board of Education made the decision to have students in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten return to in-person classes on Monday, Nov. 9. The Board also decided that elementary students in grades 1-3 will return to in-person classes on Monday, Nov. 16. Elementary students in grades 4 and 5 will return to in-person classes on Monday, Nov. 30. Students who are in the 6th grade at an elementary school will also return on Monday, Nov. 30.”

The Board’s decision comes after state health officials reported that neighboring Oklahoma City has zero ICU beds available for those battling more severe cases of the virus.

Jennettie Marshal and Jania Wester were the only two board members who voted against in-person learning. They are both women of color. 

Distance learning, however, is still an available option for all full-time students whose families are concerned about possible viral outbreaks. 

But what about teachers and support staff who may have pre-existing health conditions or may be forced to place their family members at risk? We have learned the virus doesn’t discriminate and that this unseeable microscopic monster continues to claim victims of all ages.

Board Member Marshal, whose district is predominantly Black, stated, “I’m a licensed funeral director, and I speak to my colleagues all over the United States, and they are burying children, young children. They’re burying teachers and their families. One colleague just buried a teacher, and three days after she died, her mother died from COVID.” Furthermore, Marshal and Wester weren’t the only TPS affiliates concerned about community viral spread. 

A wave of teachers and parents took to social media voicing their objections subsequent to the Board’s vote. Many criticized the Board for making the decision to return to in-person learning virtually.  

“You shouldn’t expect our children to go back to in-person learning if you can’t even have a meeting in person,” Jenna King said. A former school board member, Brain Hosmer, agreed.

Shelley Lynn, a TPS parent, stated, “This is completely irresponsible. I’m so disappointed and very alarmed for the safety of my family. Why are you rushing this against the best interest of families? Thes institutions are not prepared or staffed for this.” 

According to the National Parents Union poll, “54% of parents prefer their child’s school stick to a consistent plan for whether students receive remote or in-person learning, rather than changing plans based on the number of COVID cases in the area.” Moreover, “the survey, conducted in late September, also found that only a little more than half of all parents felt included in the decision-making process about the school’s plans for reopening. And many parents weren’t happy with the reopening plan for their child’s school, with more than a third (35%) grading their schools with a C or worse.”

But the loudest clap back may have come from one of TPS most highly respected teachers, Hanna Al-Jibouri, who stated on Facebook:

“One public speaker brought up the fact that she assumed most of us [teachers] have gone back to our normal lives so she didn’t understand why school couldn’t resume as normal either.

People should not be resuming life as normal and if they have, they are the reason we cannot open schools again safely and effectively. This is not a normal time and we cannot resume normal behavior. It is okay to admit that in these abnormal times, we will not achieve normalcy. We should not be striving to achieve normalcy. Rather, we should be striving to do the best we can with grace, compassion, and understanding. We don’t need to create additional risks when being alive has plenty of risk all on its own right now– surviving a pandemic is a feat enough.” 

Al-Jibour’s post came with a call to action: encouraging community members to write their concerns to their school board officials.

She added in her heartfelt post: 

“I do not want to receive the news that a teacher, a student, a staff member, or myself contracts Covid-19 or worse, is hospitalized and of course the unthinkable dies due to this infectious disease. However, I fear this will happen if we resume in-person learning.”

TPS’s decision has left many teachers feeling trapped. 

Their concerns are warranted by Dr. Bruce Dart of the Tulsa Health Department, who stated earlier this week that “For the month of September the 5 highest risk setting with the most associated cases were in order: K-12 schools, healthcare, food service facilities, long term care/nursing homes, dorms & college housing.

There’s been a lot of speculation on why BIPOC Tulsans have lower Covid-19 rates than the BIPOC national average’s rate of infection. One theory is that Tulsa County is comparatively more segregated than most US cities. Considering that the last global outbreak that struck Tulsa in 1918 had a disproportionate amount of White infections versus Black infections, the only conclusion that can be drawn is the Jim Crow law insulated Black Tulsans living in the Greenwood District from viral exposure and infection from White Tulsans. Hence, our long history of de jure and de facto segregation has delayed the Covid outbreak in our community, with fewer Black Tulsans becoming infected with the virus.  

Nevertheless, the Covid wave is coming to North Tulsa as the season grows colder. The climb will raise infections among Black and Brown communities, like other Black and Brown communities across the nation — the infection rate will climbing disproportionately among Black and Brown Tulsans. 

Had the virus negatively infected White Americans at the same rates as BIPOCs with more serve cases and higher morbidities, would Trump had behaved differently to the public concerning the virus? Further, I wonder if it would have impacted the decisions of the other non-Black and Brown school Board Members? Would they have been more conscious about their decision regarding a return to in-person learning? 

I believe it’s just one of the many reasons why Marshal and Wester voted against returning to in-person learning. And by doing so, we are undoubtedly playing Russian roulette with Black and Brown communities among a virus that scientists still classify as novel.

Hence, I believe it is in the best interest of the community, as a whole, that we wait this out. I know it’s hard. I have seen parents and grandparents struggling to keep their sanity.

But I believe TPS should revote and consider the lives of teachers, support staff, families and communities. 

Lastly, I believe that by giving an option during a pandemic that disproportionately infects Black and Brown lives, we as a Tulsa community are stepping backward in our commitment towards racial equity. We will witness national politics play out in who’s coming to school and who isn’t.

It’s never too late to save lives and demonstrate that we are truly in this together.

The Black Wall Street Times is a news publication located in Tulsa, Okla. and Atlanta, Ga. At The BWSTimes, we focus on elevating the stories of our beloved Greenwood community, elevating the stories of...