CASA President Robin Cooper’s Presentation to Board on Reopening Schools

Dr. Robin Cooper’s Position Papers used to inform Teamsters Local 502: CASA principals’ presentations at the last BOE Meeting regarding School Opening in September 2020.

Position #1

Recently it was announced that Philadelphia Public Schools would reopen in the fall of 2020. While we are certain that the decision to reopen school was not an easy decision to make, nonetheless, the decision has been made to not only put students, staff, parents, and administrators in harm’s way, but, to also show the world that we are more concerned with rebuilding the economy than with protecting our most vulnerable populations’ lives. While we understand the burden that will be placed on parents who are often essential workers, we do not believe that school district personnel should have to potentially teach students to death, and no, this is not speaking figuratively, rather, it is a literal statement based on what we are asked to do.

Various school districts in California, Los Angeles, San Diego, Nashville, TN, Atlanta, GA, Arlington, etc. have decided that the risk is not worth the demand. Unfortunately, Philadelphia, was not listed, as one of those districts. We now know that:

  • Children can get coronavirus
  • Children can be carriers
  • Children of color and poor children will be most affected by this decision, putting, their lives unnecessarily at risk
  • Twenty-five students in a class is still a full class of students in a small cramped place which can possibly lead to positive cases.

We have shared the following strategies that we believe to be the best alternative at this time

  • All students being taught virtually for the first two months of school as we carefully analyze the direction of the COVID-19 virus.
  • Training of school personnel
  • Team teaching

Position #2

The world watched as a police officer held his knee on the neck of George Floyd. Since that time, there has been a dismantling across of the nation of systems that have historically held people of color as inferior beings. In the School District of Philadelphia, there is systemic racism that has been in existence for years through practices that have been reinforced under the current administration that need to be abolished for the betterment of our overall city:

  • The abolishment of all practices that serve to perpetuate institutionalized racism and disparate outcomes for black and brown students:
    • students being suspended for minor infractions at twice the rate of their white counterparts, which contributes to high dropout rates.
    • Discriminatory admissions policy that exclude and discourage black and brown students from applying to schools of choice (PEW Report).
    • Students should have equitable access to aesthetically attractive, clean, safe and healthy schools that are clear of pests, lead, mold, and asbestos, regardless of zip code.
  • A disproportionate number of TFA teachers and others with emergency certification, in schools that serve black and brown students
  • The abolishment of current practices that allow for the exclusion of hiring African American Teachers under the auspice, “They are not good enough for this school” or “There are no African American Teachers in the system to hire”
  • African American personnel being disciplined at five times the rate of their white counterparts
  • Systems that allow for the exclusion of African American personnel for career advancement NOTE: This DEI position has been repeatedly requested by various groups, including advocates from the LGBTQ+ communities, CASA, parents, teachers and students.

In order for systemic racism to be properly addressed, a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion department is very necessary to hire personnel whose sole responsibility is to ensure that all entities are committed to educating students. A DEI department will ensure that diversity is acknowledged and respected, equity is a standard practice and inclusion of all is the basic standard. We are calling on the district to hire needed personnel to address this critical issue and to involve key stakeholders in hiring for this key office. A committee, coalition, ad-hoc group is not enough because there is no accountability attached to it. Like other large districts, this must be an office with key personnel designed to ensure that all schools, positions, and career opportunities are void of racism, implicit bias, and discrimination.
Further, this office should be one that doesn’t report to the district but to the School Board directly. This will ensure that more objectivity is employed in decision making as opposed, to giving way to disparate treatment of minorities, nepotism, leaning toward special interest groups or people (to the exclusion of more qualified candidates), and, last but not least, segregating students, staff and people seeking career advancement.