While I support a partial reopening of face-to-face school for students with IEPs or other special needs, I don’t think sending the majority of our nation’s students back to physical school buildings this August or September is a good idea. We already know our nation has neither the discipline nor the public health system to fight COVID-19. While other nations do, and are safely reopening schools, we just don’t.

I understand the challenges a single parent may face if physical school buildings do not reopen in the fall. However, considering that many single parents depend on their parents for financial, emotional and child-raising support–at least occasionally, and some quite heavily–we should strongly consider the role of grandparents in raising the next generation, and what the risks are for grandparent caregivers. 

In my world growing up, Grandma and Grandpa performed essential roles. When money was tight for my parents, aunts or uncles, Grandpa would step in to ensure rent was paid and food got on the table. And when Mom was unable to grab us from school, Grandma arrived excitedly at curbside to pick us up.

In the more dire situations that my family experienced, due to an aunt or uncle being incarcerated, it was the precious grace of my grandparents who raised their grandchildren. Until they each took their last breaths in this world, Grandpa and Grandma continued to raise and love their children and grandchildren. I honestly don’t know where some of my cousins, or I, would be today, had it not been for the sacrifices made by our grandparents.

But I can tell you this: had COVID-19 struck in the late 80s and claimed my grandparents’ lives, there is no way I’d be sitting in this professional seat today, as the founder and editor in chief of The Black Wall Street Times. 

Black Grandparents Lead in Caregiving Our Youth

I say all this because, while grandparents are beloved caregivers in many families, regardless of racial ethnicity, they take a pre-eminent role in the Black community in particular. Research from the AARP shows that while only 5% of grandparents in the general U.S. population are their grandchildren’s primary caregivers, that is that case for31% of Black grandparents. Even when they are not primary caregivers, Black grandparents are also more likely to take hands-on roles with their grandchildren as mentors and financial supporters.

These Black grandparent caregivers are likely to be younger than the average grandparent and to have a modern outlook. In the AARP survey, half of those Black grandparents said they discuss racism with their grandchildren. That’s 21 percentage points higher than among grandparents in general. 

And, contrary to widely-shared misconceptions about the prevalence of homophobia or anti-LGBTQ+ views in the Black community, Black grandparents have as progressive an attitude toward the LGBTQ+ community as the general population. This mirrors my own experiences. I can recall the countless times my grandmother inquired about my dating life. “When are you going to bring a nice young man home?” she would say. 

Our Grandparents Are Too Precious a Resource To Risk

All this experience came to mind upon hearing President Donald J. Trump’s threats to pull funding from schools that would choose not to open their physical school buildings as a safety precaution to protect its students from a deadly virus. I was horrified.

And when his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, co-signed, all I could see were the countless grandparents wondering if their grandchildren, whom they are rearing out of love, will be the death of them. I could see untold numbers of grandparents asking themselves, “If I die, who would care for them?” 

We know, based on the data, that COVID-19 has a definite taste for the elderly and communities of color. Therefore, my biggest fear is of sending children to schools, only for them to return home with a killer virus that could have apocalyptic-level effects on the nation’s Black elders, as well as for communities of color more broadly.

Sending our kids to school this fall amid a global pandemic would be like sending our grandparents back to Normandy on D-Day, but this time our grandmothers would be accompanying the men. Our grandparents are too precious a resource of culture and caregiving to risk.

Nehemiah Frank is a fierce advocate for charter and community schools. He has public policy experience and is the founder and editor in chief of the Black Wall St. Times. Frank is also a middle school teacher at Oklahoma’s top performing charter school, Sankofa Middle School of the Performing Arts a member of the Deborah Brown Community Schools.


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