Testimony of Maddie Luebbert to the BOE, July 23, 2020

Good evening Dr. Hite and members of the School Board. 

I am Maddie Luebbert, an English teacher at Kensington Health Sciences Academy and a member of the Caucus of Working Educators. I’m also an alive person that hopes to remain living for the foreseeable future. 

I am going to speak very personally tonight, because I cannot extricate the issues related to our reopening “plan” without acknowledging my own human involvement. 

This week brought the 20th anniversary of my older brother’s unexpected death. He was 17, and I was just 7. Needless to say, every part of my life was affected by this event. Hopefully, not many of you can relate to the impact of a childhood loss, so I share this to illustrate what I know: To experience loss and grief as a child is alienating, painful, and really damn hard. Most adults are not equipped to help a child through this process, and as a child it often feels impossible to ask for the support you need. 

If the School Board approves the District’s current reopening plan, we will be forcing hundreds or thousands of children into this rare and painful experience as they helplessly watch beloved family members, school staff, and classmates die preventable deaths from covid-19. I wouldn’t wish this experience on any child, and the fact that we do not have to do it this way only deepens the violence and trauma being committed. Too many of our students have already had adverse childhood experiences, and their chances of surviving more trauma should not increase exponentially by attending school. 

You also may remember that my mother and my sister are both classroom teachers in our school district. My big sister works in a school with known asbestos contamination among other environmental issues, and my mom has to bring a tote full of inhalers and epi pens to work every day due to her adult-onset asthma, which she contracted working in another ancient and toxic building for nearly 20 years. My father, who I don’t want to feel left out, is also an educator in the field of mental health and works directly with School District of Philadelphia students as a psychiatrist. 

That means all four members of the Luebbert family are being placed directly in harm’s way by the rush to return to in-person school. If you know any of the Luebberts, you know that we are deeply committed to our work with young people, perhaps to a fault. We each thrive in our settings and are recognized for the relationships we build with children. I’m confident that my mom, dad, and sister are just as eager as I am to return to our typical work settings where we are most effective. However, I don’t think any of us want to die or do irreparable damage to our bodies in order to do so. 

Dr. Hite and the school board: You have the power to save thousands of lives in Philadelphia. While we still have time, please channel all of our resources towards preparing for high-quality virtual schooling and providing safe physical spaces for our most vulnerable students in need of assistance or shelter during the school day. 

My tangled up personal experience is just one example of how harmful this plan will be. Please stop biding your time until someone more powerful steps in when you know that the moral, data-driven, and safest option is NOT in person instruction. We cannot rush back to school, decimating our community, in the service of capitalist greed. 

Thank you.