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Thursday 21 January 2021
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Something to Think About: Time to Go Back to School.. In-Person!

Op-ed by Rev. Michael Vaughn

Rev. Michael Vaughn, Sr. Pastor, New Wineskin Church

Well, here we are at the end of 2020 and indeed it has been quite a year!  Through the challenges with COVID-19, racial unrest and the turmoil in the elections this has been a year for the books.  Among all of the things that have occurred this year, in the Rochester City School District (RCSD) a lingering concern hangs over the district and I’m not talking about the impact of children getting the coronavirus.  I’m talking about black and brown students going further and further behind in their education and that is IMHO one of the worst lingering effects of the coronavirus.

Let me state at the outset that I can only offer an opinion here as I am not the superintendent of the RCSD and therefore do not know the pressures that she is under that has caused her to make the decisions that she has made.  However, I would like to note that I have not heard of valid reasons as to why the decisions to keep students from in-person learning until September 2021 has been made!  It doesn’t appear that this action is supported by the science nor the good of the students in the RCSD.  Think about this for a moment, there will be some young people in the RCSD that will not have had in-person instruction for 1 ½ years.  In a normal high school experience of four (4) years, 38% of that time has been stolen.  If that amount of time is to be taken from these students, there needs to be very critical and substantiated reasons for it.  When I look at the suburbs that surround the city of Rochester as well as the private schools that surround Rochester, how is it that they have figured out how to have in-person learning and the RCSD has not?

It is a disservice and extremely disingenuous to call for equity in the RCSD relative to the surrounding towns while not doing all that can be done to effectively educate the students in Rochester.  Having remote learning is NO substitute for in-person learning and anyone that believes that it is, is not working with reality.  Therefore, everything should be considered to ensure that in-person learning for the students in Rochester is enabled.  The RCSD, pre-COVID, was already behind other districts in the area relative to a list of academic metrics and it was a struggle to try and improve.  Now with remote learning having captivated the RCSD for 1 ½ years, the metrics for the districts have no choice but to recede even further.  This is something that in a large measure impacts black and brown students more than white students.  It’s time for the activists in the city of Rochester to pressure the district to have in-person learning, now!  What is being done to these students is frankly unjust!

Having a sound education is the one thing that has the ability to lift a people from lower to higher standards of living.  When one has a good education, there will be lower crime, higher employment, lower drug usage, etc.  Therefore, it is essential that we not allow black and brown young people to fall further behind their white counterparts.  From what I perceive to be Rochester Teacher Union issues the students of Rochester are again suffering and that is extremely sad.

While the coronavirus needs to be dealt with appropriately, science shows that young people are not the highest risk group, they don’t transmit at the same level as other groups and despite what folks may think they can follow directions.  If there are teachers that are fearful of teaching in person, they should be able to stay remote and teach those students whose parents are fearful for them attending in-person.  The actions taken by government officials during this pandemic have consistently leaned towards “punishing” the least vulnerable at the expense of the most vulnerable and that’s not right!

The means to protect against the virus while living life is achievable.  However, fear and self-interests have won the day way too often without regard for the long-term consequences.  Unfortunately, a large population of students will be forever impacted by these seemingly unwise choices.  RCSD, it’s time to go back to school…in-person!

Rev. Michael is senior pastor of New Wineskin Church. Contact him at mvaughn.seniorpastor@newwineskin.org