Last week, the Columbia Public School Board of Education voted to return students to in-seat learning. This is despite continued high levels of COVID infections in the community, hospital status remaining at yellow, teachers not yet having received a vaccine and concerns over safety from many teachers – especially teachers of color.
Brittany Fatoma is the founder and director of the Teacher of Color Support Network here in Columbia. According to its Twitter page, the organization’s mission is to “support, empower, and retain educators of color in Columbia, Jefferson City, and Mid-Missouri.”
Fatoma sat down with the Assistant Director and current CPS 3rd grade teacher, Daphanie Bibbs, to talk about their concerns.
Brittany Fatoma: I love kids. I love education. However, loving children and loving education doesn't mean I'm going to die.
Now granted, when push comes to shove – when we're having those school shootings – teachers were literally putting their lives in the path to protect students. We would do anything for our students, even die.
But I think the presumption of making it not even a choice, because it's not a matter of whether educators would die for their students – absolutely. Because they're their children.
But the fact that you're saying, “You're going to die for your students,” and not giving me a choice, and not giving me resources, and it's simple things – supplies or just a concrete plan of what to do when students enter that door and then when they leave.
I’ll turn it over to you, Daph.
Daphanie Bibbs: What I am frustrated with is people that don't look like me trying to acknowledge that they know what life is like – as a Black woman, as a Black child, as a Black family, as a Black male – I don't like that. Because you wouldn't know because you're not Black.
The reason why I am so into education, and I'm engulfed in my students and their families, is because I am them. I'm a product of growing up in a terrible neighborhood. I know what it's like to have a gun pointed at you by police, I know what it's like to be walking down the street and be handcuffed and searched. I know what it's like to grow up in a single-parent household.
I'm a single mom myself, and so to hear people that don't look like me, stand up on the podium and say what we need – when they truly don't know – is very infuriating. It's a slap in the face.
The reason why I chose to teach virtually – it was a very last-minute decision. I wanted to be in a classroom – but I have to think about my family, and my family right now consists of myself and my daughter.
If I got sick, what was going to happen to my daughter? So that's what I kept thinking about.
I worry about my colleagues, because, thankfully, I was given the opportunity to teach from home. Many teachers weren't, and so, what do you do what you have to choose between the safety of yourself and your family and your livelihood? Because that's what the choice is between.
I didn't have the choice to not work at all, and so many of our families don't. Many of our families don't have the options to not work – someone has to work because if we don't work – that’s food, that’s light.
My heart just goes out to those teachers who don't have a choice. It's really hurtful, because someone unfortunately will lose their life. We don't know if it'll be a teacher or student, and so, it's almost like we're playing a waiting game, which is waiting to see, you know, when and who it'll happen to in our district.