Dear Rochester,

Putting children first. It is a phrase we use often, but our actions sometimes belie what we profess with our mouths.

Ten and a half months and counting. That’s how long the majority of Rochester City School District students have been without. Without the benefit of in-person instruction, and without being in a school building. Without access to critical support services, and without in-person contact, social interactions and relationships with adults and peers. They, and their parents have been without the benefit to choose.

Until now.

Over the past months, we’ve talked to many RCSD parents through PECAN’s meetings, and with those in my personal circle. There are many differing views and opinions on many topics, including health and safety precautions, transportation, quality instruction, technology, and much more. I’ve also talked to teachers, social workers and paraprofessionals, also with varying opinions. One area of agreement is that parents must have the option to choose what they believe is best for their child.

Families want their children to return to in-person schooling, and more importantly, our scholars have the right to receive it. Putting children first means knowing and acting on the belief that they have a right to an education, which should minimally include the right to come into a classroom to receive in-person instruction.

I emphatically support parents’ right to choose, and I support the reopening plan. Our RTF pediatric partners (PedsROC4Kids) are actively engaged with RCSD and providing support to ensure proper health and safety issues are being addressed. And although NYS has reduced the requirements for mandatory testing (as well as funding for it), RCSD is working to maintain its plans for testing, to ensure safety and confidence for all students and staff. Also, in January, RCSD provided 56.5 hours of training for more than 4,400 staff, with ongoing training and development in the works to make sure that the resources, tools and skills are in place to ensure quality instruction for our scholars.

Schools have been closed for almost a year…enough already! We acknowledge that this is not easy to do, but putting children first means that we focus collectively on how we work to meet their needs first. Period!

Which also means we should all be outraged that a 9 year-old girl was handcuffed, manhandled and maced on a city street by city police officers! How can 7 adults believe that this was the correct course of action to take with a distressed child? At one point in the bodycam video you hear one of the 7 say “You’re acting like a child!” Really? Just how old did he think she was? What biases are at work and informing his actions as he goes about his business to “protect and serve?”

This is not defensible, AND this is not new! Black girls are often seen as being older, less innocent, and needing less protection and support than white girls, as found in the landmark study, Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls Childhood. Those of us not familiar with the study and the body of work taking place to address systemic inequity targeted at Black and Latinx children and families, you can start by checking out this brief video. Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls Childhood – YouTube

For those of us already in the trenches, this is just another affirmation that there is so much more that must be done. We are not confused – the response from adult teachers, primarily nonresident and white, that are demanding that schools NOT reopen for city children, the bulk of whom are Black and Brown, is not separate and apart from the response from adult, white, primarily nonresident police officers that mistreat a child on a city street in the middle of winter.

Racism is a public health crisis that cuts across many systems and institutions to produce the same inequitable, and in many cases, deadly result. Large scale, systemic changes are needed if we are going to truly put children first. We must demand changes to local and state level policies and practices that hold racism and inequity in place, that perpetuates the mistreatment of our babies, and manifests death and dying in our communities. Targeted approaches like residency requirements for public employees (teachers, police officers, etc.) is certainly a place to start. We must also evaluate and reframe how resources are allocated, who is in charge of those resources, and making sure there is authentic and transformative engagement of community – read parents and youth – at the table!

Putting children first means demanding what’s best for them and doing the work to see that they get it.
Systems change requires behavior change.

For the Children!
Eldress Campbell