Ishaan Nandwani, Contributing Writer
I have nine younger cousins, all under the age of 11, and much to the dismay of my aunts and uncles, they have transitioned back and forth between virtual and in-person education over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Virginia, struggling to find any consistency in their learning during this formative period in their lives.
Unfortunately, this has been the case for many similar families across the commonwealth. As Virginian families struggle to readjust, they seek elected officials who can help ease their children’s transition into in-person education during the pandemic.
Currently, with the transition back to in-person schooling, we’re seeing a whole new host of regulations emerge, including mandatory vaccinations and mask mandates, many of which are under major contention during the Virginia gubernatorial race.
Beyond the stricter COVID-19 regulations accompanying the shift back to in-person education, we’re also seeing the curriculum in Virginia schools shift to focus on race and gender, as evidenced by the anti-racism policy at Fairfax County Public Schools and the new policies supporting inclusivity for transgender students by the Virginia Department of Education.
This change has been incited by the recent racial and social justice reckoning in our nation — including the protests against police brutality for the death of George Floyd in May 2020 — but not without backlash.
Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate in the Virginia gubernatorial race, and his supporters have repeatedly fought against COVID-19 precautions in schools and the new direction our schools are heading with their curriculums, arguing that Democrats are interfering with our education system.
This point of view could not be more flawed.
First of all, the pandemic is still not over. It might feel exhausting to keep hearing this, but it’s true. So long as case rates are still up and the lives of our community members are threatened, we must continue to wear our masks — the minor inconvenience is a small price to pay to protect those most vulnerable around us.
As of Oct. 26, there have been nearly 920,000 active cases of COVID-19 in Virginia, and this number is still rising, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
As for vaccines, I’m shocked that we’re still seeing a resistance to them. Science has repeatedly proven that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe, and it has already saved countless lives. Living in the U.S., we’re privileged enough that any one of us can walk into a local clinic or Rite Aid and get their shot for free, which is simply not possible in lesser developed countries.
Making vaccines mandatory is a necessary step for schools to take. At school, students are constantly in close proximity with their peers and teachers, any of whom could have preexisting conditions or be immunocompromised. Unvaccinated students pose a direct threat to these students and faculty members, and schools should be at liberty to make the decision to protect their students.
At VCU, we’ve already made that step to require vaccinations for students, barring case-by-case exemptions. According to the VCU vaccination dashboard, 95.1% of students and 97.1% of employees have been vaccinated, as of Oct. 25. The vaccine mandate at VCU has been extremely effective in ensuring that our campus builds its immunity against the virus.
Finally, the curriculum in Virginia schools should reflect our changing values. Historically, our curriculum has been built upon the white man’s narrative. When I was in elementary school, I read literature written by white authors, celebrated “heroes” like Christopher Columbus and learned the history of our country from an extremely one-sided perspective. I’ll let you guess which side that was.
I seldom had conversations about race or gender, or saw people of color like myself represented in our education system.
But today, I see greater hope for our schools. Each day, as my cousin — now in the fifth grade — comes home from school. She’s learning not only about race, but to be an advocate, to be anti-racist and not silent in the plight of the oppressed. And that’s a blessing in and of itself to see.
When we see direct attacks on education rooted in making our world more equitable, we must question whether those in opposition truly are acting in the best interest of all of our children.
Education in our state may be extremely divided in this day and age, but the one thing that all parents have in common is wanting the best for their kids. Prioritizing children’s safety, and not shying away from uncomfortable conversations, is the only way we do that and continue to grow.