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South Carolina Senator Tim Scott recently gave a rebuttal to President Biden’s address to the nation, in which he expressed sadness over “locking vulnerable kids out of the classroom.” This is a curious choice of words for a Black Senator from South Carolina, a state which established some of the earliest Black codes and Jim Crow laws in the United States.
Senator Scott followed with, “locking vulnerable kids out of the classroom is locking adults out of their future.” Coded within the phrase is the association with “locking up,” the systemic crisis of jailing Black men and women needlessly.
Sen. Tim Scott’s disinformation
At a time when Black men and women are imprisoned and killed by law enforcement at astronomical rates, Senator Scott’s words are inflammatory and over-the-top. Vulnerable students were not locked up, nor locked out of school. Vulnerable students were not prohibited from attending to their studies; COVID-19 interrupted everyone’s lives due to adults like Senator Scott not taking the virus seriously.
In fact, Senator Scott erroneously stated that science had proven schools were safe from COVID. While it’s true that children are less likely to contract COVID, schools are not safe — particularly for another vulnerable population: teachers and school staff.
Back in October, a South Carolina mother and daughter teaching duo died from COVID just weeks apart. Demetria Bannister was a 28-year-old third grade teacher, while her mother Shirley was a school nurse. A South Carolina veteran kindergarten teacher died in January.
Racism locks students out, not COVID
Clearly schools are not safe from COVID, which has a death rate more than twice of the influenza virus.
Meanwhile, Senator Scott is not entirely wrong; vulnerable students are often “locked out” of the classroom, contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline. However, this has nothing to do with COVID-19. Vulnerable Black students are three times more likely to be suspended compared to their White counterparts, while research shows that this phenomenon leads students to lose time in the classroom — and is often their first encounter with law enforcement.
Perhaps that is what Senator Scott meant by “locking kids out of the classroom.” Covid will become more manageable thanks to Pfizer and Moderna, but it is systemic racism and white supremacy that truly locks vulnerable students out of opportunities.