As Trump tweets “OPEN THE SCHOOLS!!!” women worry about returning to work, supporting distance learning, and the push to reopen schools during a pandemic.
The aggressive push to reopen schools in-person may be what gets women to the voting booth this election, and not in the direction that President Donald Trump would like. From Twitter rants to actual policy from the U.S. Department of Education, the Trump administration has done everything in its power to prioritize the economy above all else.
On August 3, Trump tweeted, “OPEN THE SCHOOLS!!!” And before that, the Department of Education threatened to withdraw financial support from school districts that didn’t prioritize reopening schools in person, only to take it back.
Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have made it clear that their top priority is getting adults back to work. For them, reopening schools is a necessary step in order to get women back to work.
If women weren’t 47% of the workforce in the United States, the decision to reopen schools would not be an issue causing Trump to send panicked middle-of-the-night tweets. Among women, teachers are in a specially challenging position. Of the 3.5 million teachers in the U.S., 76% are women. To reopen schools, even if virtually, teachers must figure out how to both take care of their students and their families.
Women not only take on most of the home and childcare responsibilities, but are too frequently alone or poorly supported. In Puerto Rico, 60% of the mothers of students in public schools are single mothers, and 47% work outside the home. With employers demanding they return to work in person while they’re also expected to support learning from home starting on August 17, it’s no surprise they are worried.
For Jennifer López Branshaw, a daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, balancing being the CEO of Carmen Schools of Science & Technology in Milwaukee and taking care of her toddler provided a unique set of challenges. Under normal circumstances, running a school system with 2,100 students, 90% of whom come from low-income backgrounds, requires constant strategizing, planning and collaboration.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of schools, López Branshaw found herself waking up before sunrise to get as much work done before her son woke up. She would then spend the day on phone calls and video conferences, while following her toddler around the house. Late in the evenings, after he was asleep, she would refocus on work before starting it all over again the next day.
“Often I think about the families as we think about reopening schools, many of them do not have the resources to opt into childcare,” López Branshaw said. “Sometimes the cost of childcare is more than what they may be making in a paycheck. For single parent homes, for many of my immigrant parent families, they are scrambling. They don’t have family to count on.”
Given the increase in COVID-19 cases in her state and with input from families and staff, López Branshaw recently had to communicate to her school’s community that classes would start virtually this fall. This decision was not made lightly, considering that “not 100% of our families have internet or strong enough broadband access and many have multiple kids trying to access coursework. This exacerbates the achievement gap,” López Branshaw said.
Women do not need a rushed reopening of schools that will put their children and their loved ones at risk of becoming sick with the COVID-19 virus. Women need real solutions that respond to local, current, and evolving conditions created by an unprecedented pandemic.
If there was an opportunity for private and public sectors to partner and fully consider the perspectives and needs of women in decision-making to reopen schools, this is it. Ignore women and the impact on them and their loved ones at your peril.