In-Person School Isn’t Safe Until It’s Safe for Students of Color

At least pretend like our deaths matter to you.

Marquisele Mercedes


Photo by CDC on Unsplash

When the Centers for Disease Control altered their operational recommendations for K-12 schools in March, they included new recommendations like “revised physical distancing recommendations to reflect at least 3 feet”, signaling movement towards a full-scale re-opening of US schools. Alongside these recommendations is a section called “health equity considerations”, which notes the disproportionate risk of illness and death to minoritized racial and ethnic communities and acknowledges the need for comprehensive strategies that address their increased vulnerability to harm. Yet, these “health equity considerations” have seemingly had no effect on the creation of these new guidelines, which threaten the lives of the most marginalized students — those who are poor and Black and attend under-resourced schools. To protect these students, CDC recommendations need to shift away from rushing in-person instruction to pushing for policies that protect Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color, including the creation of safe in-person instruction facilities.

Like their adult counterparts, children of color are more at risk of severe sickness and death due to COVID-19 than white children. The effects of racism on marginalized children cannot be parsed from the effects racism has on marginalized adults who live alongside them in places shaped by redlining, food and vaccine apartheid, lack of health care access, and other manifestations of injustice. Forcing our students back to school on the basis of incomplete data created by long-neglected public health infrastructure and ineffective contact tracing would be willful endangerment on behalf of public health and other government officials.

Here are the facts: Children are infected and sickened by COVID-19 and contribute to its transmission. Some children are more likely to have severe symptoms following infection because they have certain underlying conditions that are known to increase the risk from COVID-19. These children are high-risk just like the other high-risk individuals who have been targeted by pandemic response teams for the past year (i.e. adults over the age of 65), although high-risk kids have received considerably less