When my 17 year-old son heard high schools would be all remote this year he told me he felt cheated. As a junior in the Rochester City School District (RCSD), he is worried he will finish high school unprepared for college.
Remote learning has been a poor substitute for in-person instruction. Live instruction time is very limited during the week, and there has not been the same consistent support for his disability. More than that he misses his friends, and school is one of the few safe places he can go in our neighborhood.
In-person instruction is vitally important for the over 100,000 school-aged children in Monroe County. Many children in our community have fallen dangerously behind in their academic and social-emotional development. Safety comes first for students, parents, and teachers, but if there is way to reopen schools safely we must do it as soon as possible.
Our community’s child care system has largely remained open during the pandemic and has avoided widespread transmission among young children and their educators. This suggests that, with proper precautions and limited group sizes, young children can safely receive in-person instruction.
The disparities in who has access to in-person instruction may deepen existing educational inequities in our community. Every district in Monroe County except RCSD intends to offer at least two days of in-person instruction for all grade levels, and some as much as five days for elementary students. The conflicting guidelines only adds to the distrust and anxiety of many parents, teachers, and students.
Broad and conflicting guidelines for reopening schools by national and state leaders have put the responsibility on school districts to completely redesign their operations in a matter of weeks.
Meanwhile, national and state governments have not fully funded the costs of reopening safely. School districts are approaching reopening in widely different ways as a result, with underfunded and highly segregated school districts like Rochester being the least able to adapt.
What we need is a gold standard for in-person and virtual instruction that emphasizes equity during the pandemic. To ensure these standards are implemented, state and federal leaders must provide the funding schools so desperately need. Standards for safety should be clear and widely understood, and parents and teachers deserve choices about virtual versus in-person instruction.
Equity means ensuring additional supports for the students falling the farthest behind. One positive trend in reopening plans has been the prioritization of young children, students with disabilities, and English language learners, who research shows are the most in need of in-person instruction. Even so, to make up for the learning loss during the pandemic will require a huge investment in public education that goes beyond where we started in March.
Reopening plans should be about the safety and needs of students, period. We cannot let children be cheated out of their education because of the failures of adults.
Valerie Stribling is an RCSD Parent. Eamonn Scanlon is Education Policy Director at The Children’s Agenda.