Unsung 
 9/11 heroes

Recently, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney defended corporations by saying “corporations are people.” I’m willing to concede that point if Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner will admit that government is also “people.” 

The increasingly vitriolic conservative/Tea Party anti-government rhetoric has made it too easy to forget that “government” is made up of hardworking people — flawed and imperfect, but mostly competent — capable of doing heroic things. On 9/11, I was honored to be working alongside a group of such heroes who have not received nearly the recognition they deserve: the teachers, administrators and board staff of the New York City Public School System.

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On that awful day and during its painful aftermath, these men and women were among the many government workers (police, firefighters, public sector employees) who heroically ensured that every single one of New York’s 1.1 million public schoolchildren was accounted for and returned home safely to his or her loved ones. In addition to dealing with the logistical and emotional nightmare of that day, they’ve also been on the front lines helping our children in NYC, and across the country, understand and deal with the tragedy in the days and years since.

There were seven NYC public schools that had to be evacuated very quickly after the planes struck the twin towers. That meant moving 8,000 terrified K-12 students, some of whose parents worked in the towers. While each school had a safety and evacuation plan in place, like so many other systems, those plans quickly became irrelevant amid the unforeseen and rapidly changing conditions in the area. Teachers, principals and staff effectively adapted, as they moved the children through the chaos, some walking to other public schools out of the immediate area standing by to receive them, others evacuating on boats.

Ada Dolch, who was the principal of the High School for Leadership and Public Service, located directly across the street from the World Trade Center, made sure that every one of her 550 students was evacuated, leading them across the Brooklyn Bridge, knowing that her sister, who worked on the 105th floor of one of the buildings, likely had not survived.

Additionally, plans were quickly developed and implemented to deal with children in the other 1,693 schools. There were myriad considerations and decisions that needed to be made quickly with the faith that teachers and school staff would implement them efficiently. Among those considerations: How to ensure that every child got home safely and was not alone to watch the gruesome drama once he or she got there? What about those children whose parent or parents might not be coming home? Were there enough buses to accommodate the 750,000 kids who typically relied on public transportation so that they would not get stuck in the middle of the massive traffic jam?

Obviously, a million children could not be put out on the streets or simply sent home, and no child could be dismissed without parental consent. So with the help of teachers and staff, the schools stayed open until every single child was accounted for. And as we began to reopen schools, teachers and staff played a critical role in helping children cope with what had happened, looking out for signs that a child needed help.

Let’s remember the heroism of these people — government workers, public-sector employees —and offer our thanks.

Karen Finney is a political analyst for MSNBC and Democratic consultant.