It’s “immoral’ to ask educators and students to return to classrooms for in-person instruction after national and state leaders muffed the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, says Bishop William J. Barber, national co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and president of Repairers of the Breach.
Barber said that even before the pandemic, public education was underfunded by state legislators and being undermined by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who continues to push to use public money to fund private schools.
“And now after you have created all of this chaos, you wanted to send the children and the teachers back into a lethal situation,” Barber said Friday. “Not only is that immoral, it’s illogical and it actually makes no sense at all.”
Barber also blasted President Donald Trump for not following the advice of health experts and for refusing to provide leadership while the coronavirus worked its way across the country leaving death in its wake.
He said the nation would be in a better position to reopen schools for in-person instruction had it shut down properly after the virus first struck.
“In the Poor People’s Campaign, we have parents and teachers and the parents and teachers are saying that we don’t want to put our children in death’s way,” Barber said. “It didn’t have to be this way. Teachers are simply saying give us the protections that we need. Give our students the protections that they need. And parents are saying the same thing about our children.”
Barber made his comments to editors and reporters with States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit news outlets focused on state politics and policy, during a remote meeting Friday. Policy Watch is a member of the network.
“It’s just wrong for the people who created the mess, who refused to respond properly to the virus, who let it run and let it do what it has done because of ineptitude and a downright refusal to acknowledge it, and then say we have to reopen schools.” Barber said.
In North Carolina, State Superintendent Mark Johnson said this week that roughly one million of the state’s K-12 students will attend school remotely to start the new school year,
Gov. Roy Cooper directed the state’s 116 school districts to reopen, as soon as Aug. 17, using a mix of remote learning and in-person instruction. Cooper also gave districts the option to reopen using remote learning only if coronavirus metrics indicate that’s best for students.
Barber, the former head of the state NAACP and pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, talked about a wide range of issues, including systemic racism, poverty and voter suppression.
He chided Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for his refusal to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which removed barriers such as literacy tests that were used to keep blacks in the South from voting in state and local elections.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck a blow against voting rights when it ruled in Shelby County vs. Holder that states with a history of discriminatory practices in voting were no longer required to receive “preclearance” before passing new voting laws.
Barber said the ruling has led to voter suppression.
“Yesterday was the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” Barber said. “We have less voting rights today than we had in 1965.”
The Poor People’s Campaign has organized a second Moral Monday March on McConnell and will stage a digital “sit-in” to demand McConnell stop causing what the organizers say is “misery and mayhem” on poor people and the nation. The virtual march will take place Aug. 10, at 3:30 p.m.
Barber said the good news is that a joint study by the Poor People’s Campaign and Repairers of the Breach found that poor and low-wealth Americans control 22% of the electorate, which is enough to shift the political landscape in “any state in the nation if they organize across racial, gender and geographical lines.”
The organizations will hold a news conference at 1 p.m., on Tuesday to share the low-income voter study.