By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
No child is ever spoiled by too much attention. It is the lack of attention that spoils. – Bessie Blake
A new school year has begun at the intersection of local elections and the acceleration of the delta variant of the coronavirus.
COVID-19 has had a disastrous impact on children’s social, emotional, and academic well-being since it began pummeling families in January 2020. And, nearly 252,000 children have tested positive for COVID-19 in just the past week.
As a result, Black parents are frightened of sending their children back into classrooms.
As classes resume, who watches over our children?
I approached Christine Varwig for an answer. Varwig was elected to the Toledo Public Schools Board in 2013, re-elected in 2017, and is running for a third term in 2021.
We discussed her campaign and the challenges facing Toledo Public Schools.
Perryman: What specific strengths do you bring to the school board?
Varwig: I bring leadership from the time that my daughter was in TPS. I’ve been very active with the parent organization and served as president at Beverly, Byrnedale and Bowsher. I also was president of the district’s parent congress, and it was a natural progression to go to the school board. As far as leadership abilities, I bring a parent perspective. I’m always seeking to make progress, and I’m a problem solver. I believe in collaboration. I think that is the way that you achieve great things in the district.
Perryman: What are your priorities for the district?
Varwig: How about we survive COVID? I would say COVID overall. But if we look at other issues within the district, I always will say the state is one of our biggest challenges because of its policies. At the local level, the challenges are the trauma our kids experience and bring to the district and then how, as a district, we’re looking to help our students.
Perryman: A recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association reported nearly 252,000 children tested positive for COVID-19 just as schools were reopening. How does TPS keep our children safe with all of the trauma they are facing?
Varwig: That’s a great question. It is masking certainly, which is what we have instituted already. We will follow all of the CDC guidelines, including safe distancing and handwashing. That is a priority.
In addition, when vaccines are available for the under-12 category, certainly we will encourage our parents to go ahead and do that. I will also say that a statehouse bill is looking to squash any mandates or vaccinations.
Perryman: How do you address parents who are anti-vaccine or anti-mask?
Varwig: Some folks cannot receive the vaccination for medical reasons. I get it. Even the masking, I know that some folks out there are very hesitant. They don’t believe in what maybe is coming out from the health departments, the CDC or the media. But again, we have to encourage best practices, and I can’t worry about politics. I have to worry about the health and safety of our students and our staff.
Perryman: Are you collecting and disaggregating mental health data on students?
Varwig: There are components of that, but again, I don’t really… I’m not free to discuss the mental component aspect because there are some relevant HIPAA issues. So, we will be collecting some things, but again, I will defer to the administration on that topic.
Perryman: Defer as to whether you collect data or not?
Varwig: Correct, because I don’t know precisely what they’re collecting. I know that they talked about it, but again, I don’t know. I don’t want to speak of something I’m not entirely aware of.
Perryman: The head of the Teacher’s Union has stated that TPS needs to triple its police presence in the schools. What is your opinion?
Varwig: Well, I can understand, especially with the recent issues that we’ve had at some of our schools. I am a huge advocate for the safety and security of our students and our staff. What I will say, though, is it needs to be a collaborative process. That includes having parents at the table, our police department, and our administration to genuinely discuss what we see as the needs in our buildings. I will defer to Dr. [Romules] Durant and his administration. As a board member, it is my job to govern and to provide input from the community. Dr. Durant would then make a recommendation and bring it to the board, and we can decide at that point.
Perryman: While the police are overrepresented in schools, TPS has only one half the recommended school nurses, one third the recommended school psychiatrists, one half school counselors, and only three percent of the social workers as recommended by the National Association of Social Workers.
Varwig: I will say that using the recently-awarded ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] federal dollars will give us opportunities to provide additional resources for our students. I am a big believer in providing more counselors, more nurses and anyone who can assist with our students’ socioemotional development. That is something that we definitely need in our buildings.
Perryman: Let’s talk about diversity, equity and inclusion. You’ve recently lost half of your department. Where do we go from here?
Varwig: Well, diversity, equity and inclusion will remain in the district, and we’re going to boost it if we can. I’m a big believer in incorporating DEI in all departments across the district. While I love the one department, the ideas that they’re bringing forward can mesh throughout multiple departments. So, while we may be one down, we will grow again.
Perryman: We hear a lot of conservative political talk about Critical Race Theory (CRT). Do you think it is essential for children to learn the legacy of slavery?
Varwig: I not only think it’s important for all children to be taught the truth, but our district is also looking at moving forward with Afrocentric education programs. I am a big believer in teaching the truth. CRT is not taught in public schools. I’m very concerned about house bills 322 and 327 because that really prohibits the promotion, teaching and training of “divisive” concepts, such a loose topic. When students go to school, they should be able to engage freely on various topics and learn the truth about our nation and our world. Those house bills are one of our biggest challenges because they aim to limit what our students can learn. There should never be a limit on the possibilities of education.
Perryman: Let’s go back to the Afrocentric High School. Previously, TPS opened Escuela SMART academy for Spanish-speaking families. When can we expect the Afrocentric Academy?
Varwig: I will say this, we had a curriculum committee meeting yesterday, talking about Afrocentric education. The board has been very interested in pursuing this opportunity. We’ve had folks from our administration check out Columbus City Schools’ model. Our district, including our DEI Department, has been heavily involved in this. I don’t want to talk too much about that because that will be coming. They’re not finished with all of their data gathering and how they’re going to lay some things out. So, I don’t want to spoil the surprise, I guess, but I will just let you know that we are very active in pursuing Afrocentric education.
Perryman: And that we can expect a surprise at some time in the future?
Varwig: Absolutely, I would say within the following year. I shouldn’t even call it a surprise. Here’s the thing, it’s just the right thing to do. I always look at education as student-centered decision-making and opportunities for our children. This is another avenue for opportunities for our children.
Perryman: Finally, our readers can visit your website at www.christinevarwig.com, but what is your campaign message in a nutshell?
Varwig: I will say that I am passionate about public education. I’m always looking for collaboration and problem solving, and opportunities for our students. I love Toledo Public Schools. I love our students. They have such dynamic minds, and I want to give them everything they need to pursue the dreams they have ahead of them.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at firstname.lastname@example.org