When it comes to ‘essential services,’ schools come in first

In closing schools, we are robbing millions of children across the country of opportunity. And until we tackle this pandemic head on, the suffering will only compound.

By

Opinion

November 20, 2020 - 2:44 PM

Photo by Pixabay

Friday was my granddaughter Olive’s last day to attend school in person until January because of COVID-19. A fourth-grader in Topeka, Olive is a good student. Even so, asking her to continue her studies at home will be a detriment to her progress. 

It’s my belief that closing our schools should be a last resort to curbing the spread of the virus.

On the whole, students are the least likely to suffer the effects of the virus if they catch it, and schools are the safest places for them to be during this public health crisis because they wear masks and observe social distancing. What’s more, the value of in-person education with their peers cannot be overestimated. 

During this pandemic the code words “essential service” were constructed to determine what entities could stay open for business during initial shutdowns. Schools qualify. We should do everything in our power to make sure they stay open.

During this pandemic the code words “essential service” were constructed to determine what entities could stay open for business during initial shutdowns. Schools qualify. We should do everything in our power to make sure they stay open.

REMOTE learning is an incredible burden on children.

For most, both parents have jobs. For many of those parents, they lack the resources for outside care to watch their children. 

Not all families have the necessary technology so that their children can access online learning programs. Some homes are either not equipped with Wi-Fi or have substandard service. 

At the most recent USD 257 board meeting, elementary principals said about one-third of remote learning students are struggling and would do better with in-person classes. 

Lincoln Principal Andy Gottlob said several remote learners have simply dropped off the school’s radar, refusing to engage, and with no parental oversight. “They’re falling so far behind, they’re going to have a heck of a time getting caught up,” he said.

Educators frequently bemoan the loss of learning during the summer months, known as the “summer slide.” This year’s “COVID slide” is shaping up to be far worse.

THE POOR are disproportionately hit by remote learning.

In USD 257, a little more than half of students, 632 to be exact, depend on either free or reduced-priced lunches. For many, a school lunch is their only hot meal of the day. 

Without a formal school environment, many of these children are left unsupervised for long stretches of time. Older students are forced to become baby-sitters for their younger siblings, robbing them of the time necessary to keep up with their studies. 

OLIVE lives in Shawnee County, where the health department has determined the rate of transmission as “uncontrollable.”

Its advice: Stay away from people — including birthday parties, weddings, church services, tailgate and holiday parties and sporting events. No gathering is small enough to avoid risk.

“I’m gonna miss school — again,” she said. 

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” I told her. “I wish there was something I could do.” 

As adults, we have robbed her, and millions of children across the country, of opportunity. And until we tackle this pandemic head on, the suffering will only compound.

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