Your Views: Teacher says, “It’s time to stand for students”

Your Views: Teacher says, “It’s time to stand for students”
(Photo/Missy Schrott)

To the editor:

This is in response to letters from Frank Fannon, Gerald File and Molly Kaiman from the Nov. 26 Times regarding the lockdown of Alexandria City Public Schools, with which I concur – but to which I would like to add a few insights as I am a teacher and care deeply about our students.

Fannon raises the issue of school leadership, which is relevant given the actions of our superintendent, Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D. As has been seen, while he is preventing the students of ACPS from attending school, he is sending his own child to a private school. 

As the saying goes, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Hutchings may have the privilege to send his children to a private school, but the vast majority of families suffering from the school shut-out are people of color. To them, education is more than a privilege enjoyed by the powerful elite, it is a right accorded to all. 

Kaiman says, and I agree, that schools are more than just a place to learn facts and acquire knowledge. Schools are the second most important place for our students, outside of their homes, and they are a refuge for some. They are a place to seek shelter and safety. Sadly, that sanctuary is now closed.

In addition to learning and crucial assistance in times of desperate need, schools are also a place to socialize, build relationships, get involved with athletics, the arts and career and technical opportunities, develop wisdom, seek support and receive guidance.

Schools’ closure represents a huge loss in many vital areas of life – and our students will carry this loss, this weight on their shoulders, for the remainder of their lives. Furthermore, it is a travesty to offer virtual learning as a substitute or remedy. Virtual learning means virtually no learning.

I teach beginning English learners, and I can tell you that trying to engage and learn from a laptop at home is daunting for special needs students – for obvious reasons. The schoolhouse can’t simply be reduced to a laptop or a smart phone. There are too many elements, components and amenities – and support services and guidance – that schools provide, but laptops or smart phones don’t.

Not least of which is the fact that many of our English learners and special needs students are poor. They live in crowded situations. It is commonplace for laptop learners to be sitting next to brothers and sisters and cousins all trying to engage and to learn simultaneously but with different laptops, classes, different teachers talking simultaneously. 

Recently, I discovered that a student of mine actually sits in a closet to try to learn. This is heart-wrenching. Is this the best we can do? Is this what we have become? All of this for a population that is relatively invulnerable to COVID-19, but some 10 to 20 times more negatively affected by the seasonal flu?

I can tell you that many of these students are not simply sitting home with their laptops. They are on the streets. They need school. Please re-open the schools. We can do so in a way that provides options for those who wish to remain at home – but our students need us.

File points out how politicized our school leadership has become. But our focus should be the needs of our students, not politicians or a partisan political agenda.

It’s time to stand strongly for our schools and our students.

-Francis Carragher,