Schools Won’t Survive COVID-19
For schools, fall 2020 is sure to be a disaster.
There are some districts opening in-person with no restrictions. Others are opening in-person, but with facial coverings and social distancing. Still others have opted for hybrid learning or rotating schedules. And then there are districts who have chosen to remain remote.
Teachers, school staff, administrators, leaders, parents, kids, and families have been hotly debating this issue since COVID-19 began.
But here’s my unpopular opinion: we’re ALL wrong.
It’s wrong to open schools fully in-person, even with restrictions. We’re going through a pandemic, and this will only make it worse. It’s useless and despicable to force teachers (who are already drastically underpaid) to put their lives on the line, and to risk students bringing a deadly virus home to their families. Also, kids are goofy and gross and they aren’t going to obey CDC guidelines as well as adults (but, some adults aren’t even obeying them anyway). Meanwhile, schools don’t even have the funding to safely reopen, and our leaders are threatening to defund if we don’t reopen — so what do we do?
OK, there’s a hybrid option? Cool. Except with hybrid, there’s still a chance that kids could bring the virus home. There are still issues with getting kids to follow public health measures. There’s still a lack of funding. There’s still parents for whom hybrid is not enough time for them to be able to work full-time and juggle school. And then there are families who might not have the resources to support a hybrid schedule.
Ah, screw it, then — let’s just move to distance learning. Except that distance learning isn’t a great system. Lots of kids don’t have technology, let alone adequate supports at home to help them to do their learning 100% independently. Most can’t hire tutors because they come from lower-income families. There’s also kids who need special education services or struggle with mental health challenges and learning disabilities and require one-on-one time with a teacher. And then there are LGBTQ kids, neglected and abused kids, anxious kids, for whom school is their safe haven. Where do they go now? And how will some kids find the time for distance learning if their family is low-income and they have to take care of their little siblings during the day while their parents work full time?
Do you see what I mean? Schools will not survive this, no matter what learning option they’ve chosen.
And you can say that “there’s never going to be a *perfect* solution”; but we’re not even searching for a perfect solution. We’re searching for one that isn’t going to destroy our school system. And neither of the three options are going to stop that from happening.
Because guess what? Our education system is already broken, but it’s only going to get worse. Here’s why.
There’s no way to safely reopen schools.
In-person, distance learning, and hybrid are all going to prey on students in different ways. No option is the *best* option because they’re all going to impact us no matter what. But let’s put that aside for a second.
The public education system has been underfunded, well, pretty much always. And we won’t be able to support the students in need.
We’ve never had adequate funding. The US federal government spends more on the military and the police departments each year than they spend on education. How counterintuitive is that? Teachers are still underpaid. Parents still have to donate basic necessities, like wipes, paper towels, and hand sanitizer. We couldn’t survive on that before, let alone now, in a pandemic. It’s shameful how much we pretend to care about education in the US but how little resources we actually dedicate to it.
We have a Secretary of Education who has no idea how to do her job.
I’d venture to guess that Betsy DeVos didn’t set foot in a public school until she took on her Secretary of Education position, which is just despicable. And even now, she thinks so terribly of public schools. She claims that they are just dumps with weak programs, but yet she makes no attempt to change that. In fact, she has been known to campaign for “abolishing public schools.” That’s right: DeVos wants public schools to disappear. And she’s done a good job of it so far. Even now, in a time when schools are most vulnerable, she’s threatening to cut funding if they don’t fully reopen in-person. That’s not OK. If anything, we need more funding right now to support a safe process to returning to school. We’re in a literal pandemic. This woman has no idea what she’s doing and never has. So yeah, that’s a mess.
When we do return to school, some states are mandating standardized testing.
I spoke with a teacher on Facebook the other day who teaches in Ohio. At her district, schools are returning in-person, but only 50% of the time (kids will rotate days). However, the first three weeks of school, including the first day, will be spent making up for the standardized tests they missed this spring. Kids will complete several full, multiple-hour standardized tests during that three-week window and then return to school. Talk about missing out on learning. How can we condone this?
Interactive activities are being defunded or even eliminated from schools due to COVID-19.
How are schools going to conduct gym classes? Orchestra? Band? Choir? Shop class? Art? Robotics? Engineering? Science labs? Answer: they’re not. Under COVID, it’s hardly possible to run these activities the same way that we did pre-pandemic. Teachers are creative, so it’s still possible to find ways. But the point is, these activities, classes and clubs build community. Kids’ mental health is going to suffer when they don’t have access to these, and I fear that the absence of these activities will be a long-term thing. In fact, one school district in Massachusetts has already decided to defund the music programs for the 2020–21 school year and possibly longer. What are those kids going to do? School isn’t all about arithmetic and reading. It’s also about team-building. Kids need to have access to the things they love, and we’re taking that away. It’s not fair.
Kids’ mental health is at an all-time low, but some districts are refusing to make time to help them cope.
The field of learning known as Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) has been a necessity for years, and even appears on most districts’ annual curriculum plans. But more often than not, it’s just an afterthought, and a disproportionate amount of hours are dedicated to “formal” learning like math, reading, writing, and science and not to SEL. With the pandemic, though, kids’ mental health is worse than ever. We are experiencing a collective trauma. Some kids have lost family members or friends to the virus. They are tired of staying inside. Some feel isolated and lonely. Whatever their state is, we need to learn to support them, but districts dedicate little to no funding to SEL and are usually so rigid that they prohibit schools and teachers from dedicating an adequate amount of time to it. But we can’t stand for that anymore. Kids need support, and they need it now.
Because of lack of funding, kids won’t have adequate one-on-one learning and mental health support.
The federal government and local districts don’t fund support staff enough (like special ed, school counselors, psychologists, aides, paras, etc) so when kids do need to turn to someone for support — and they inevitably will — there might be no one to turn to. And even if there is, those people already have their plates full of other students to attend to. In fact, the average psychologist-to-student ratio among public schools in the US is 1 to 1,423 (actionnetwork.org). That’s one psychologist for 1,423 students. How are we going to help students when we don’t have the resources to do so?
There’s already a huge achievement gap among US students, but the pandemic will widen it.
Nationally, statewide, district-wide, and city-wide, there’s almost always an achievement gap among students. Usually this is a racial achievement gap (e.g. white students tend to have higher graduation rates than BIPOC students). However, it can also expand to straight students versus LGBTQ students, low-income students versus high- or middle-income students, immigrant students versus non-immigrant students, native English-speaking students versus ESL students, etc. Interestingly enough, though, all of our vulnerable students and those who have gaps in achievement are the ones who are 1) disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and 2) will likely not have the resources to support a comprehensive and healthy learning experience this fall. Therefore, the privileged students who are already doing well may have a drop in success, but it will be nothing compared to the already-vulnerable students. The achievement gap will only increase.
Families who can afford it are opening micro-schools or sending their kids to private institutions.
Micro-schools and private schooling is perpetuating systemic racism. Period. I wish I didn’t have to explain it, but here goes: typically, private schools aren’t very diverse. Micro-schools won’t be either. Statistically, it’s the white, upper-class, two-parent households that can afford these options for their children, even if they aren’t totally in need. But low-income students or students with difficult family lives or from marginalized populations may need these resources more than ever due to their circumstances, and yet they can’t afford them. It’s a vicious cycle, and like I mentioned before, the achievement gap will soon reflect these worsening disparities. Thus, systemic racism continues to increase in intensity in the education system.
And even after all this time, teaching is still an underpaid, under-supported profession.
Teachers are still underpaid. They probably will be for a while, until we elect a leader who cares enough to turn it around. And parents were all enthusiastic about supporting teachers in the spring, but now some of them treat them like glorified babysitters and expect them to risk their lives and their families just to reopen schools in-person. Teachers will probably also be blamed for the problems that we experience this fall as a result of the pandemic, even though most of them work their butts off and will have nothing to do with the difficulties we’ll be experiencing. We need to learn to respect teachers if we ever hope to fix the US education system.
So what can we do?
Start by electing leaders who will adequately fund schools.
When you vote in an election, read about the candidates’ approaches to schools. Don’t elect someone who is not proactive about funding schools and supporting teachers and districts.
If you can, use your voice — demand accountability from your district.
If you’re able, get involved. Watch board meetings. Read the plans that districts have for the school year. Hold them accountable if they do not stick to the plans — there’s a lot of funny business that can happen at the district level that we need to be aware of. Demand social-emotional learning and adequate supports for vulnerable students.
Respect teachers. Understand that this is new to everyone, and they are doing their best.
Don’t blame teachers for what happens this fall. It’s not their fault. Placing blame is not a productive way to deal with a situation like this one. Respect them, and learn from them. Trust their expertise and have faith in their love and passion for what they do. Advocate for them. Elect leaders who will pay them. Support their hard work. Thank them.
Don’t send your kids to private school or open a micro-school.
Again, I wish I didn’t have to explain this, but both options are a privilege. I get that you want your kid to be able to learn and that you’re worried of what they’re losing by not being in schools. I get that you need your alone time. But guess what? A lot of other parents are in the exact same boat — they just don’t have the resources to do the same thing. So don’t widen the disparities that we already have as a result of your own privilege. Take one for the team and realize that you’re doing the right thing by not always putting your child above the rest of the pack.
If you can, find ways to help vulnerable students and families in your community.
Open your pockets! Donate to shelters, food shelves, hygiene drives. See if you can donate to tutoring services and education supports who will serve these vulnerable students at a low or zero cost. Donate or volunteer at facilities that offer free childcare and homework help to kids. Use your voice in your community to advocate for those who are struggling, even if it’s outside of your comfort zone. Be aware. Believe in the change that you are capable of making.
And I don’t mean to attack any parents or families for how they choose to approach this issue. I understand that it’s difficult. Even for the most privileged and financially stable of us, it’s still new, and it’s a difficult adjustment. I empathize with everyone right now. There is no “right” way to go about this, and everyone’s feelings are valid.
Yes, the system is broken.
No, it won’t be easy.
But we can do this — together.