Keeping our Latinx Families Safe During the COVID Crisis

Richard Barrera, Vice President, San Diego Unified School Board

As a San Diego Unified School Board member representing District D, I pay close attention to the way the COVID crisis is affecting our Latinx communities, including neighborhoods in my district such as Barrio Logan, Logan Heights, Sherman Heights, Golden Hill and City Heights.  Decisions on reopening schools are particularly challenging when we consider two equally valid realities.  On the one hand, the virus threatens heavily Latinx communities disproportionately.  Over two thirds of all COVID cases in San Diego County, and over half of all COVID related deaths, come from the Latinx community.  On the other hand, the academic and social and emotional impacts of students forced to learn from home also disproportionately impacts Latinx students, where nearly half of all San Diego Unified students are Latinx.

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It should not surprise anyone that Latinx families and neighborhoods suffer a greater share of the COVID burden than the community as a whole.  When we think of the “essential workforce,” we know that the majority of hospital workers, grocery workers, food delivery workers, even construction workers in our community are Latinx.  Everyday, Latinx workers are putting themselves at risk for the health and safety of the entire community.  At the same time, Latinx families are more likely to lack health insurance, suffer chronic health conditions, and live in substandard and overcrowded housing than the community as a whole.  And in the industries hardest hit by the economic impact of the virus – hotels, restaurants, homecare, child care – the majority of workers who have lost jobs and seen work hours cutback are Latinx.  Many of these workers who are undocumented have been intentionally and cruelly excluded by the Trump Administration from relief such as expanded unemployment benefits or stimulus checks. 

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Learning from home is especially difficult for many of our Latinx students.  Since our District shifted to online learning in March, we have distributed over 75,000 computers and provided internet access to thousands of students on the wrong side of the digital divide.  We have also distributed over 5 million meals to students dependent on school breakfast, lunch and supper as their primary source of nutrition.  The great majority of students and families who we have helped with meals and getting connected to the internet are Latinx.  For many of our students, finding a quiet place at home to participate in online learning is challenging, given that overcrowded housing is a fact of life for many of our families. 

So what do we need to do as a School District and as a community to help all of our families, including our Latinx families, through this crisis?  As we consider reopening schools, we need to follow the best advice of local scientists and public health officials in prioritizing safety first.  Our District, in partnership with the San Diego Education Association, convened a panel of experts from UCSD to advise us on safe reopening.  The UCSD guidance emphasizes opening slowly and in phases, considering that the spread of the virus in San Diego County and in heavily Latinx communities continues at dangerous levels.  We will begin with our first phase of bringing students back this month, when elementary school students who are homeless, need in person special education services, or who are falling behind their peers in learning are contacted by their schools and teachers to come onto campus for in person learning.  Because we are focused on the students most in need, the overwhelming majority of these students will be Latinx.

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As a community, we need to get this virus under control.  All of us can do our part, by wearing our masks, observing physical distancing, and avoiding large gatherings.  Local elected officials including the County Board of Supervisors, the Mayor and the City Council need to prioritize safety first when making decisions on reopening indoor businesses such as bars, restaurants, gyms and shopping malls.  As Assembly Member Todd Gloria and County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher have advocated repeatedly, schools need to be prioritized over bars.  

And the federal government needs to do what almost every other wealthy country in the world has done – provide enough corona virus testing so that we can identify individuals carrying the virus, isolate them, trace their contacts, and prevent outbreaks before they happen.  It is particularly shameful that we are not offering comprehensive testing in our Latinx communities, which would go a long way in keeping families safe, allowing parents to go back to work, and allowing our schools to safely reopen. 

We have a chance over the next month to turn the corner on this virus and get our kids back to school.  We need to all complete the census so that our schools and communities get the resources we need, and we need to vote!  Let’s make the change our kids and families deserve.  Si se Puede!

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