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 is President & CEO of The Leadership Academy. Nancy joined The Leadership Academy in 2014 and has served as National Leadership Designer and Facilitator, Vice President of District Leadership, and Chief Strategy Officer. She was named President & CEO in July 2018 and continues to serve as an executive leadership coach and facilitator for school systems across the country. She was a Fall 2019 Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow, and in February 2020 was named among the 100 most powerful education leaders in New York by City & State New York. Nancy is a frequent keynote speaker for local and national education organizations and has authored numerous pieces on education leadership and equity for national publications including Education Week, Kappan, The74, and Hechinger Report. Nancy began her career as a teacher and principal in her home community of East San Jose, CA, where she was the founding principal of Renaissance Academy, the highest performing middle school in the district and a California Distinguished School. Nancy also led the successful effort to turn around the district’s lowest performing middle school. She was named the UC Davis Rising Star and Association of California School Administrator’s Region 8 Middle School Principal of the Year in 2010. Prior to her tenure with 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 and is a graduate of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS) Aspiring Superintendents Academy. She served on the national board of the Coalition of Essential Schools for more than a decade. She is an instructor at NYU and frequently teaches at the Harvard Principals’ Center institutes for School Turnaround Leaders, Urban School Leaders, and Race, Equity, Access, and Leadership. Nancy is a member of the Board of Directors at The Hunt Institute, Brightbeam, and Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC) and serves on the Latinos for Education teaching team. Find Nancy on Twitter @nancybgutierrez or LinkedIn.