Recently there’s been a debate raging over whether or not students should return to in-person school or continue remote education, much to the compromise of the quality of the learning. Many of you reading this column will have an opinion or an instinct on this. I’d love to hear from you.
The reality is that there are no clear options, but parents are frustrated. I am the parent of two kids in local public schools and I know the impatience on the part of LAUSD families is growing. On the local parent board I co-chair, there is talk of heading back to school no matter what, and a general dismay with elected leaders who seem to have abandoned any semblance of a plan for parents or a road map for kids to frame this unstructured time of endless e-learning.
Teachers and kids alike are left rudderless, while parents who can are picking up the slack at home. On a recent early morning run in my neighborhood, I ran into another mom who was power walking up our steep hill. She stopped to exchange the usual niceties and then hurriedly said, “Oh gosh, I’ve gotta run, I’m on borrowed time—my husband is watching Zoom school till I get back!”
Such is the privilege of having a husband who can watch the Zoom school you’re lucky enough to have a stable connection for. The parents who can’t pick up the slack at home are watching their kids stop learning, or at least have trouble taking in the information. Without help—either a parent with bandwidth or a tutor paid at the ready—many LA families are at their wit’s end with no relief in sight.
A recent LAUSD parent survey revealed that only about half of the 600,000-plus school district families have access to a solid internet connection, and that almost 60% of families have been impacted by COVID-related job loss. Internet access continues to be the biggest challenge facing online learning, and nearly 40% of this massive school district said assignments online are “confusing or need more information.”
Parents’ biggest concern was that their children not fall behind academically. There’s the rub—fall behind what? If everyone is e-learning, then where would anyone fall behind … ?
But not everyone is e-learning. Private schools will be nimble with boards that are sensitive to the intellectual needs of a child and they will adapt to a pandemic reality that still requires kids to learn, and not languish behind nameless screens that aren’t even required to be turned on, while UTLA and the governor spar over vaccine priority and a school year cast to the rubble of history.
There are now several organizations and movements afoot to pressure a safe school reopening. With varying degrees of urgency and science, the general arch of the movement is toward urging lawmakers to come up with a policy that can set kids on a roadmap back to school. They need it—their ability to nurture a healthy intellectual curiosity, indeed the development of sound mental health, depends on it.
Let’s get our teachers vaccinated, our kids accustomed to social distancing, and our schools cleaned up and ready to face a new reality. The national PTA has a mandate for health and safety. Let’s see them step up their advocacy and put some money behind sanitizing school districts across the states and helping kids back into clean classrooms that can be maintained, germ-free.
There is a new virus among humanity and it isn’t going anywhere. We will have to learn to deal with it, and we can’t do it all from behind a screen. Kids need to be in school, they need to socialize, test their wings, learn their stuff and catch up … the digital divide is real and it impacts public school kids the most.
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