Karla Hernandez-Mats

Karla Hernandez-Mats

UTD President

After six months of seemingly biblical trials and tribulations, COVID-19 does seem to be revealing a glimmer of a gift if we’re open to receive it.

As our community reflects on the challenges, tragedies and frustrations we have all endured during the lockdown, to characterize the coronavirus as harboring a blessing probably seems misguided, but hear me out.

We have been given the time and space to relearn the value of the everyday things we take for granted: how to be present in the moment, gratitude for our families, our activities, the simple freedoms in life and of course, our health. More importantly, COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to appreciate the critical role that each person plays to ensure that our communities are vibrant, sustainable and able to thrive. 

Beyond our first responders who have shouldered so much during this time, emotionally, mentally and physically, there are others, especially in our Black and brown communities, who have borne those metaphorical arms on the frontlines. These include janitors, grocery store workers and bus drivers, among many others.

Equally deserving among these frontline warriors are our teachers, who since March have been working and learning nonstop about how to effectively teach our children in a virtual environment, while also adjusting to the new normal in their own lives. For many educators, there is the added layer of ensuring that their own children attend distance learning, while preparing for and teaching their students as well.

It is an understatement to say that it has been a frustrating and exhaustive summer on the education front. In particular, over the last three weeks, when the challenges of onboarding our district of almost 350,000 students has further underscored the critical role educators play in the lives of our children. But therein lies the gift.

The failure to launch the school year through the K12 platform has highlighted the consequences of systemically defunding our public education system and its infrastructure, the inadequacies and shortcomings of a privatized public education model and the hard fact that there is no substitute for the role of a teacher in the classroom with their students.

More importantly, it has created an unprecedented solidarity among Miami-Dade educators who have come together to support one another and tap into their collective power not only to deliver for their students, but to also send the message loud and clear that they have had enough.

The truth is that our educators miss your children, their students. Teachers know that having students in their classrooms will provide them with a better education and will help parents get back on their feet as they juggle work. But they cannot continue to bear the combined burdens of being teachers, babysitters, nurses and hygiene experts, while also tending to the challenges that COVID-19 has brought into their own lives.

Now more than ever, we need our community to understand that our teachers’ working conditions are our children’s learning environment. We must harness the energy from our newfound gratitude for our educators to demand that they get the resources and the guidance they need to safely return to in-person instruction and to keep our children and our communities safe.

If we want to reopen our schools safely, we need to show our educators solidarity. We need to stand with them and demand safety measures. We need to ensure that the school district and administrators follow CDC guidelines and promote safety by having small class sizes with 6 feet of separation.

While COVID-19 has taken away much from many, it has given us the gift of insight, self-awareness and a better appreciation for life. Let’s keep them and your families safe so that our community does not have to take two steps back. Let’s gift back some of that appreciation to our most valiant frontline soldiers and leaders: our education workforce. Let’s demand safe schools.

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