Last month, New York City closed its K-12 public school system to protect teachers and staff as the pandemic reached new heights. The city, however, was less concerned with the safety of community-based early educators like me, who have continued to work in person. As essential workers in this pandemic, early educators deserve hazard pay immediately.
As has become clear, early educators at community-based organizations (CBOs) have helped sustain this city throughout the pandemic. Without us, nurses would be unable to tend to patients; delivery drivers would be unable to deliver food; first responders would be unable to keep our city safe. Without us, the city would be unable to provide education and care to over 91,000 children under the age of five. Without us, the city would be unable to fulfill its universal pre-K mandate. Yet, we early educators continue to be treated with utter disregard.
For one, the city has sent us back to work with next to no safety precautions. Although students and staff at elementary schools, which reopened on December 07, 2020, will receive weekly CoViD-19 testing, we at community-run preschools have been afforded no such luxury. Many of our centers were never provided with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), leaving us to secure PPE on our own. To make matters worse—and more unconscionably unfair—the majority of early educators are Black and LatinX women, who are most likely to contract and be hospitalized with the virus.
None of this inequal treatment is new. Even in normal times, early educators at community-based organizations face the harsh reality of working more hours for far less compensation and far worse benefits than their DOE counterparts. Where pre-K teachers at DOE schools work a traditional ten-month school calendar, many of us work year-round and provide after-hours care, only to be paid sixty percent of what they are paid. This disparity becomes even more problematic when accounting for the fact that twenty-five percent of childcare workers in our city live in poverty—that is, one in four people who care for the city’s children are not paid enough to meet their own household needs. And more than half qualify for childcare subsidies themselves.
Despite all of this, the city forces its early educators to work through the pandemic without hazard pay. Not only does that dismiss the massive—indeed critical—contribution we have made and continue to make to our city, it also ensures that women—and especially women of color—continue to bear the brunt of this pandemic.
To be sure, studies suggest that younger children are less likely to contract and transmit the virus. But the data is imperfect and fails to account for the staggering surge we will certainly face in the coming weeks.
Yet still, to our early education centers we go. Without testing, without hazard pay, but with the city on our shoulders.
By Rachel Garnick