California parents need a seat at the education reform table
Damage to children caused by being locked out of their school buildings for over a year has been documented again and again and again. It is difficult to find silver linings in policy responses to this pandemic.
But while it has never been clearer that public schools should never again be the first places to close and the last to open, galvanizing parents as advocates for their children is a unique opportunity to redefine this. what does education reform in California mean?
Our message is parents are getting involved now – look into all the anxiety, frustration and worry this year has created. Run for a school board seat, participate in your school site council, play a role in your school’s PTA.
California policymakers have delayed reopening safe schools – which means our state has always been the last in the percentage of students with access to in-person instruction – despite evidence last fall that they could be safely reopened and that extended closures were damaging to children. The closures have also been extremely damaging to working mothers, who have assumed the burden of distance learning and face mind-boggling job loss Numbers.
Members of the California legislature are currently debating what the 2021-22 school year should look like for the 6 million children attending public school in California, with some lawmakers, such as Senator Connie Levya, stating that there should be strong distance learning options for families.
While we recognize that there are families who, due to medical necessity or choice, would prefer to pursue distance education, the vast majority (83%) of parents in California public schools in statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California believe their children have fallen behind in school during distance learning. The majority of parents also believe that English language learners and low-income students have lost the most ground.
Additionally, although complete data has still not been collected on parents’ desires to learn fall, partial data collected by the Oakland Unified School District finds that a whopping 95% of parents intend to send their children back to school in person – the data is over 90% for all racial groups.
The school is a refuge for children and parents and has much more than an educational role. Many California families rely on public schools to provide their children with two meals a day, clean their clothes, see a dentist, or have their eyesight and hearing checked. Schools also play a critical role in reporting cases of child abuse and, as a result, reporting has markedly diminished while California kids learn at home, which isn’t always a safe place. Finally, for children with learning and other developmental disabilities, in-person schools provide crucial support to both children and their families. Distance learning was particularly disastrous for these childrenbecause their legally mandated services and reviews cannot be virtually replicated.
In addition, the response to this pandemic has created an unfair situation that has favored students from wealthy neighborhoods in California. Students who attend the Marin County school are in school year-round, while their peers across the bay in Richmond are only in a classroom at best a few hours a day twice a week. , and only since April. This dynamic of educational inequity during the pandemic – where students in wealthier districts or counties have had access to better education – cannot continue in our state.
During the pandemic, schools could have been a safe haven for children, as they were in many states in this country and across Europe. As has been noted in numerous studies, spread rate were lower in schools than in surrounding communities. The spiraling mental health crisis in teens with anxiety, depression, and even suicidal ideation due to isolation and disengagement from prolonged distance learning was not obvious. It is no exaggeration to say that many children have suffered needlessly.
What is clear to us as California moves towards ending this pandemic is that the agendas of stakeholders and adult decision-makers have too often been prioritized over the interests and well-being of children. Parents are now more determined than ever to make sure this never happens again. We are keenly aware of the elected leaders who have stood up for children this year and those who have remained silent, and we intend to encourage and support parents to run for school board seats to better represent our goals.
Federal and state governments have made extraordinary investments in schools, and we need to think creatively about how parents, families and other stakeholders absent from policy decisions of the past year can make our voices heard in the conversation about public education in the future.
We must empower parents and students to provide a counterweight to other actors in public education and develop a post-Covid political agenda that prioritizes the needs and well-being of all California children. We want to make sure parents and children have a seat at the table!
Megan Bacigalupi is a parent of two in the Oakland United School District and founder and executive director of OpenSchoolsCA, a statewide parenting rights organization. Rebecca bodenheimer is an Oakland-based freelance writer and writer and mother of two; she is a member of the Advisory Board of OpenSchoolsCA.
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