As I write this, we all continue to determine how to respond to the coronavirus situation in ways that will best keep the people we are responsible for safe.
It is crucial, first and foremost, to take guidance from trusted sources, like this CDC guidance, these useful tips from Ed Week, as well as information from state and local authorities that impact how this guidance will be implemented.
But what has been most striking to me about the coronavirus response is the xenophobia that is rearing its ugly head once again.
We all know that fear can bring out the worst in people. Fear is the basis for so much of the hate in the world — the Anti-Defamation League’s Pyramid of Hate makes that so clear. In recent weeks, people afraid of the coronavirus have discriminated against people who identify as Asian. There have been reports of airport staff screening people flying in from China and Iran but skipping over people traveling from Italy. That is not only poor public health practice, it is blatant ethnic profiling and reinforces the notion that people who look non-white are more likely to carry the virus. Every scientist has debunked that myth – coronavirus does not discriminate, and neither should we.
As we education leaders navigate tremendous public health and political pressures in how we respond to the virus, we cannot lose sight of the crucial role we play in addressing and disrupting hateful behavior. We can do this by educating our students and colleagues on the history of hate — actions in response to COVID-19 are a repeat of our treatment of Africans during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, of Asians in during the SARS cases in 2002, and our treatment of Chinese people in the 1800s when they were not allowed to become American citizens in part because of an unfounded fear of disease. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has even recognized the problem, releasing this letter calling on schools to “take special care to ensure that all students are able to study and learn in an environment that is healthy, safe, and free from bias or discrimination.”
As educators, we must be proactive and equip young people with tools to identify and respond to bias — hopefully with those skills for understanding and valuing differences rather than fearing them, we can prevent hateful acts in the future. Teaching Tolerance offers some valuable resources.
Of course, we adults need to build these anti-bias skills as well so that we can effectively support every one of our students. That is at the heart of so much of the work we at the NYC Leadership Academy do every day.
To quote USC professor Natalia Molina, in this public health panic, “We need to focus on behaviors and practices, not specific population groups. We need to talk about geographic zones, but we can’t map the disease onto certain bodies based on race and appearance — that’s not going to be helpful.”
Times like these require us to be our best leaders and stand tall with those who most need an ally.
Nancy B. Gutiérrez, Ed.L.D.
President & CEO
Dr. Nancy B. Gutiérrez joined the The Leadership Academy in 2014 and was named President & CEO in July 2018. Nancy is a Fall 2019 Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow and was named one of New York State’s 100 most powerful leaders in education by City & State NY in 2020. Nancy’s belief in education as a critical vehicle for equity and social justice has inspired her dedication to education. Growing up in a disenfranchised Latinx neighborhood in East San Jose, California, she witnessed first-hand the impact of limited resources and low expectations. Nancy began her career as a teacher and principal in her home community, where she was the founding principal of Renaissance Academy, the highest performing middle school in the district and a California Distinguished School. Achieving that success, she went on to lead an effort to turn around the district’s lowest performing middle school, located only two blocks from her childhood home. Nancy was named the UC Davis Rising Star and Association of California School Administrator’s Region 8 Middle School Principal of the Year in 2010. Since she joined the The Leadership Academy in August 2014, Nancy has led such accomplishments as launching the organization’s district leadership work, developing principal supervisor leadership standards and aligned curriculum and programming including the popular Foundations of Principal Supervision institute. Prior to working at the Leadership Academy, Nancy launched a program for executive leadership advancement for the New York City Department of Education that led to superintendent certification. Nancy is a graduate of the inaugural cohort of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) program where during her tenure she served as a Teaching Fellow for Harvard’s School Leadership Program, a mentor for Harvard’s Latino Leadership Initiative, and co-chair for Harvard’s Alumni of Color Conference. Nancy served on the national board of the Coalition of Essential Schools for more than a decade. She is an adjunct instructor at NYU and is a frequent speaker and instructor for the Harvard Principals’ Center institutes for School Turnaround Leaders, Urban School Leaders, and Race, Equity, Access, and Leadership. Nancy is on the Latinos for Education (L4E) teaching team, a graduate of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS) Aspiring Superintendents Academy, and is a member of Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC) Board of Directors which aims to break through the polarizing divides that have consumed efforts to improve public education. Find Nancy on Twitter @nancybgutierrez or LinkedIn.