We are in this together. We see and hear that message everywhere right now – on the news, in ads, on social media. And we are. We are in this together, and we will get through it.

But when we do get through it, will we still be in it together? Shouldn’t we always have been? Why haven’t we? Why is it only when a disaster strikes that we pull together?

The pandemic, COVID-19, stay-at-home, school closures, business closures, mass furloughs, quarantining, social distancing – at some point these will come to an end or ease and evolve into what will come next.

But in the meantime, the pandemic and its consequences have greatly amplified the inequalities that were already there, that the most vulnerable people have been trying to navigate all this time – the digital divide, food insecurity, economic gaps, opportunity gaps. We have long been lacking a social safety net strong enough to guarantee all children and adults access to enough nutritious food, safe places to live, quality health care. Why haven’t we been more together in solving these issues all along? Will we be in it together in the months to come?

Our educators in our public schools have been seeing these gaps for years, have been speaking up about them, have been advocating for the resources needed to address them, and have been doing all they can to fill them. Educators have not only been purchasing classroom supplies with money out of their own pockets, but they have also been providing clothing and other needed items for our students. Our schools have become the place that too many students – and their families – have had to depend on for something as basic as food. Our educators have sought to provide the means to address all sorts of social, emotional, mental and physical health issues so that teachers can teach and students can learn.

Now, with school buildings closed, our educators are going above and beyond to address the gaps that have become even wider – still striving to help students learn and families cope, all while facing their own stresses caused by this pandemic. Teachers are spending countless hours each day providing redesigned instruction, engaging students in continued learning, creating lessons in a variety of formats – via technology where possible, and via other means where, as is true for too many, students do not have access to the devices needed or the connectivity required or both. Support staff prepare and distribute thousands of meals. They put together hundreds of packets of materials. Educators reach out through all possible means to check with students to see how they and their families are doing. I could not be prouder of how our educators have responded to this disaster. I could not be more grateful for their efforts. I know many have expressed that same gratitude. It could not be any clearer that our public schools and those who dedicate themselves to public education are truly the backbone of our society, of our democracy.

Many others have finally been able to recognize these gaps. Many more, sadly, are newly experiencing them.

What will the future bring? Will we, as a society, find ways to close those gaps for everyone? Will we at last ensure everyone in this wonderful state, in this wealthiest, most powerful nation, has basic needs met, real chances at reaching their potentials? Will we finally recognize that doing so is an investment in the safety, health and happiness of us all?

What lessons will we all have learned when we get through this? What lessons will we remember and act upon?

We have many challenges before us, not least of all, the bleakest of economic outlooks. But this is when we will most need to come together. This is when we must truly be in it together to support one another so that we emerge out of the pandemic strengthened by one another and, yes, together.


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