To Any And All State Lawmakers Who Are Willing To Listen:
Last August, I attended my very first open schools rally, and it made me want to do more. In October, my Girls Scout sister Olivia committed suicide due to the isolation from school shutdowns. Olivia’s death lit a fire inside me because I knew exactly how she felt. I was dealing with my own issues of depression and suicidal thoughts and attempts caused by isolation from shutdowns. Olivia’s death gave me a purpose again, and that was to bring awareness to the mental crisis students are facing due to school shutdowns and to advocate to open schools. In December, I delivered my very first speech at a rally and then testified to the Oregon state senate.
I want to share that testimony with you today:
Good morning, Madame Chair Gelser and members of the Senate. My name is Melanie, and I’m 13 years old and in the 8th grade. I probably have 100 drafts of testimony for you. But then in the middle of the night it dawned on me that you have probably been flooded with scientific data on why schools should be open. What parents are witnessing happening to their children. So I decided it was my turn, to be open and honest and really help you understand what it’s like to be a kid and what this shutdown is doing to us.
I would like to ask you to close your eyes and take a trip with me. Think back to what it was like being a kid — remember your friendships, class parties, music performances, sports, and clubs. Spirit week and dances, field trips, lunch and recess with your buddies. Do you remember how fun it was to be a kid? Now imagine with no warning someone taking all of that away from you and placing you inside a glass box.
Imagine yourself in that glass box. Your glass box is going to vary depending on your family. Your glass box could have a mom and dad, or just one of those. Your glass box might have a parent at home with you all the time. Or you could be all alone in that glass box by yourself all day. If you’re lucky enough, it has a sibling to play with, but not always. You might have a phone or another way to contact people outside your box, but you might not. Even if your glass box has someone in it, you are still in the most lonely isolated place you have ever been in your life. The worst thing about this glass box is you can see everything going on. You see people out to eat, going to work, at the gym, gambling at casinos and drinking. You can see the adults who put you in this box and insist you stay in this box traveling to Hawaii and Mexico when you can’t leave your glass box. Yet you have to stay in your glass box, you cannot go to school, play sports or do anything the rest of the world is doing right now.
You have placed the burden of this pandemic on the children to carry and we are DONE! We will not carry your burden anymore. We are going to make a stand and we won’t stop until we are back in school where we belong. I’m asking you to shatter our glass boxes and set us free.
The message adults in charge are sending us is that we don’t matter. Our lives are not as important and we need to stay in our glass box even though scientists say we should be back in school. The Governor said that it has been proven that keeping us in these glass boxes is causing us more harm than the virus itself. Yet you are still keeping us locked up inside these glass boxes. How are we supposed to trust any of you? Is that really the message you want to send us? Or do you want to stand with us and help us shatter our glass boxes?
Senator Gelser I wrote you an email in August explaining my vision to help with the homeless epidemic. I have carried your response with me every day since then.
I think you are quite wise and I am very grateful for your leadership. Thanks for sharing your vision with all of us! Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are not old enough to make a difference. In fact, you may be the only person that can make change. Don’t ever give up your voice or your vision, and don’t stop asking for those meetings!
I won’t give up until I’m back at school. I will keep pressuring all of you until you take me seriously and you realize what your decisions are doing to us. Again I’m pleading with you, shatter my glass box and all the children of Oregon’s glass boxes with me.
Shortly after my testimony, I co-founded Open Schools USA with Michelle Walker. We have dedicated countless hours fighting for the rights to education for children across the country for so many reasons — the main reason being the mental health crisis students are facing due to school shutdowns.
Students are also facing hunger issues, there are a lot of students who depend on two meals a day from schools. Child abuse is another reason: if you look at the number of reports they have drastically decreased. This means students are stuck in homes with their abusers with no way out. Teachers must make mandatory reports, and you can not see child abuse from behind a screen.
In March, we had our first national rally. Over 40 cities participated. On April 30, we marched again in D.C. from the Department of Education to the White House. We marched for our right to an education in-person, our rights to a safe haven, protection from abuse, our right to food and a meal. These are things many kids can only get at school — but they can’t get to school right now.
I’m hoping that families will come out and make a stand for children’s rights. I’m hoping college students will remember what it was like to be a child and join our cause. I’m hoping grandmas, grandpas, aunt and uncles will come out and help children. We are your future. Please come out and make a stand for our rights. If you don’t, who will?
Melanie Gabriel is an eighth grader in Vancouver, Washington. She is the co-founder of Open Schools USA, a national organization advocating for children and their right to an in-person education. OSUSA is a diverse and bipartisan combination of grassroot groups throughout the nation that have joined forces to open schools due to the negative impacts of comprehensive distance learning (CDL).
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