I remember the first time I lost a student.
It was a Saturday morning, and I had slept late.
I woke up warm and comfortable, the late morning sun streaming in through the blinds, my partner sleeping peacefully next to me.
I rolled over to unplug my phone from its charger, noticing the time and a slew of notifications.
I read and responded to messages and texts first, then checked social media, scrolling lazily through a mix of weddings, babies, home cooked meals, and reasonably fun-looking Friday nights. Then, I checked my email.
I don’t honestly remember what the email itself said, but I do remember reading it several times.
The first time I read it, I didn’t understand.
I read the email again, realizing what had happened.
I read it a third time, feeling the dizzying weight of the universe falling away.
There has been a house fire.
His name was Paris, and he was 7 years old.
For days, weeks, months after, I couldn’t stop picturing his little body falling asleep, and a house filling with smoke and flames, his empty spot on the carpet a haunting reminder of an innocent life snuffed away. The grief was overwhelming, and it still is.
It’s Paris’s face that I see when I think about my school opening for face-to-face instruction amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
I could name all of the reasons why it’s a horrible idea to open schools amidst a pandemic – I could talk about my district’s lack of resources, I could tell you about the abhorrent, unsanitary conditions in which black and brown students often attend school. I could tell you about the rising case numbers and lack of testing in my area. I could describe the lack of ventilation in our buildings, or the dubious claims that my district is now going to include soap and hot water in its school bathrooms. But none of this matters. It’s all minutiae, it’s all noise, because I can’t stop picturing Paris’s face.
I know that I am going to lose more students this year, that there will be more deaths and more grief, because by opening schools for face-to-face instruction we are knowingly putting students, teachers, and families at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19. I know that I will grieve a student, a parent, a family, a teacher, a colleague, or a friend at some point this school year. And I know that I will never be able to forget their faces, just like I am not able to forget Paris’s joyful smile.
To our leaders: Will you picture the faces of the students you kill by asking them to come to school? Will the faces of the teachers and school staff that die be etched into your consciousness forever? Will the blood on your hands ever be washed away?
Know that these deaths, dear leaders – this grief – is preventable. Take this as my desperate plea to save the lives of our children, teachers, and families. Mandating face-to-face instruction is mandating the deaths of people we love.
One dead teacher is too many.
One dead child is too many.
Online instruction saves lives.