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A Year Later: Baltimore Teacher’s Reflection on the ’20-’21 School Year – Sidney Thomas, Holabird Academy

At the onset of the pandemic, the Fund asked City Schools students, teachers, and principals to share their experience of the shift to remote learning. A year later, the Fund has followed up with the same individuals for their perspective on the 2020-2021 school year. In our third blog post of this series, Sidney Thomas, Baltimore City Public Schools’ 2021 Teacher of the Year, shares her view that the existing inequities exposed in the US educational system during this pandemic are a direct result of structural racism—where policies, practices and norms uphold white supremacy. You can read her essay from May 2020 here.

Let’s be clear. The origins of inequitable schools did not start with the pandemic and virtual school. The inequities have always existed. The pandemic simply exposed these inequities to a larger audience. 

Even though the Brown v. Board of Education decision was over 60 years ago, schools are still separate and unequal. Today a student’s race and class determine their access to fully funded schools, experienced teachers, advanced classes, and other resources. According to studies from places like the National Center of Education and the UCLA Civil Rights Project, these segregated schools negatively impact Black and LatinX students the most because they are more likely to attend improperly funded schools, have inexperienced teachers, and not have access to advanced courses and other valuable resources. All of these inequitable factors were simply amplified during the pandemic. 

These school inequities suggest why as a nation-wide education system we continue to see the same old “achievement gap.” The gap exists because of racial inequities in the school system, not because Black and LatinX students are incapable of learning and excelling. And to be honest, that gap is not going anywhere until we address and correct the lack of racial equity across schools and districts.

Often, it is mistakenly believed that schools and districts can ignore race and its implications of racism, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness. But, we can’t continue to ignore these issues while students and the education system are harmed.

For the shift to equitable schools, we must fully interrogate ourselves and our roles in this inequitable educational system and then commit to make changes. Next, fully and accurately understanding why racial inequities historically exist can then lead to further discernment in making equitable shifts in policies toward racial justice in aspects in our society, especially in education. If people are ignorant about the historical context of the U.S. and its oppressive treatment of Black, Indigenous, LatinX, and other people of color, then it will continue to lead to poor and inequitable policies and systems nationwide and in our schools.

All of the current examples of police brutality against Black folks (most recently Breonna Taylor and George Floyd- unfortunately, SO many others) and the protests popping up in all 50 states have been a wakeup call for many. We can’t continue to remain overwhelmingly silent about the inequities in schools because our students deserve more since so many aspects of students’ lives from literacy to discipline to opportunity are directly impacted by racial inequities.

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The Fund’s latest reportNOT IN SERVICE, examines how students experience public transportation in Baltimore and the implications that experience has for their education, employment and other opportunities.