On Monday morning, July 13, 2020, the Los Angeles Times reported that both the L.A. Unified (LAUSD) and San Diego School Districts (SDUSD) will be online-only when they reopen for the 2020-2021 school year. The article emphasizes this decision was not taken lightly by the Los Angeles Superintendent, Austin Beutner.
Children, Beutner said, “are looking at a lifetime of consequences if we can’t get them back in a school setting as soon as possible, but it’s gotta be safe. And what we can’t do is turn our schools into some giant Petri dish and have irreparable health and life consequences for all of the school community.”
As these are two of the largest school districts in California, this joint decision could not have been an easy one. It also comes amid a White House push to get children back in school. On Fox News Sunday, Betsy DeVos stated, "American investment in education is a promise to students and their families. If schools aren't going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn't get the funds." Whether federal funding will be available for schools that reopen for online-only learning is unclear.
By stark contrast, the Orange County Board of Education voted 4-1 to reopen schools without mask or social distancing requirements on Monday night, according to NBC Los Angeles. While this recommendation is not binding and superintendents throughout Orange County are "opposed to a rush to reopen" it further proves this is another hot button issue. Like the Black Lives Matter movement, mask-wearing and climate change, the topic of how our nation's children should return to school has left us divided. The fact is, there is no single right answer to any of these topics, but when it comes to matters of our children there is one thing parents can all agree on: we want our children to thrive scholastically, emotionally, socially, physically and spiritually.
As we look toward a return to school in my home district (historically follows suit with LAUSD) I'm acutely aware of the financial impact it will have on my community as well as nearby communities. This decision disproportionately impacts dual income families, lower income families and essential workers. It also brings to light mental health concerns for children, teachers and parents alike. Children will be learning in isolation, parents will be juggling work (however you define it), homeschooling and child care, and teachers will be overextending themselves to ensure their children get the very best (virtual) education possible.
Preparing for Long-Haul Virtual Learning
Though some schools across California may choose to reopen for part-time in-person schooling, a certain amount of virtual learning for the 2020-2021 school year is imminent.
I've spoken to (or at least texted with) friends who have school-aged children in New York, Illinois, Wisconsin and California to find out how they feel about their current back-to-school options. Many, if not all, were unhappy for a myriad of reasons. Those in more affluent communities are beginning to reach out to their networks to find a way forward, together. They're preparing to expand their social bubble in an effort share in the responsibility of distance learning or are discussing the possibility of pooling funds to hire a private tutor. However, parents in less affluent or low-income communities had more general concerns. They're worried about juggling one or more jobs while their children do not have a reliable place to go during the day. They are anxious about their children being left behind without adequate access to technology (e.g., laptops) and/or a reliable internet connection.
It's times like these that we must not be afraid to lean on one another for help. It's time to reach out to trusted family members, friends and colleagues and ask for the support we need. It's time to contact our schools and ask for the support we need. It's time to advocate for ourselves, each other and our children. It's time.
Accessing Laptops and Verizon hotspots
If you or someone you know is in need of a laptop and/or internet access in the Los Angeles County contact the LAUSD hotline at (213) 443-1300 to get a request routed to your school. According to a March article in LAist, the district has spent $100 million on new laptops and Verizon hotspots to ensure no student misses out on online lessons.
Though the logistical road ahead may seem dark and winding for the moment, one thing is certain: despite differences in opinion, we can help guide the way for the next generation. It's time.
Let's get through this—together.