EEC Statement on Re-opening Schools

The Equity in Education Coalition demands a public school system that centers children first. 

There has been a lot of news in WA state around COVID-19 recently, and all with varying degrees of welcome. The COVID-19 cases continue to grow and Gov. Inslee keeps announcing new restrictions around opening the state. We have had to make major adjustments and sacrifices. Summer, normally a time for carefree days and hanging out with friends and BBQ’s, has become a season of 6 feet distancing and exploring what masks to wear. 

As the time for us to look forward to back to school sales and the anxiety of buying new clothes is supposed to be drawing near, parents, students, and teachers are faced with two impossibly bad options – Return to a face to face education system that will put countless people at risk; or Return to online, virtual education, which puts the education of countless students at risk. 

Most people will say that in-person education is the best for both students and teachers, but is it really? With so many low-income, black, brown, indigenous, and SE Asian students falling into ever widening opportunity and achievement gaps — We must ask ourselves, are in-person classes actually working for our students? 

We haven’t contained this virus. We are still in the first wave. Our numbers are going up. People are still going out without masks or hand sanitizer. And now educational leaders want to try to convince us that being in a face to face environment for education is the best way to go. 

There have been several school districts that have opted to stay virtual for the Fall of 2020. We applaud this WHILE AT THE SAME TIME acknowledging that our parents need to go to work. Our communities have to pay bills, buy food, and get clothes. Our communities can’t all transition seamlessly to work-from-home or virtual offices because we work gig jobs, service jobs, or are essential workers. 

*Please note that the information contained herein is not intended to provide specific legal or financial advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for such professional advice. 

Educational leaders have asked that school districts that are staying virtual fulfill the following: 

1. Work with community partners to identify child care options for school-aged students whose families don’t have the option to stay home with a child each day; 

2. Address gaps in connectivity and technology access so each student has sufficient opportunity to continue their learning outside of the classroom; 

3. Continue providing school meals to the students who rely on them; and 

4. Utilize their local data to determine which of their students need additional intensive learning supports, and provide those supports remotely if possible or in-person when that is the only effective delivery method. 

5. All school districts this year, including those who will provide their learning online, will need to have weekly schedules for each student, daily engagement or assigned work for each student, and requirements for daily attendance. 

6. In addition, all districts must meet the number of instructional days and hours required in state law, consistent with the State Board of Education’s rules on the definition of an instructional hour. 

But this demand makes SO many assumptions about our school districts and our communities. For example: 

1. Not every school district *has* community partners to help identify child care options. Not every school district has committed the time or effort to build community partnerships. In some instances, the district *IS* the community partner. NOW we are demanding that school districts work with community partners to identify child care? Where was this demand last year when some of our older siblings had to be the early day child care provider for their younger siblings because Mom works the early shift or Dad comes home from the graveyard shift after school is in session? How come OSPI doesn’t put forth some financial resources to help fund child care needs if it is now going to be a requirement? 

2. “Addressing connectivity gaps” sounds so easy and so simple. But the reality is that it is a lot more complicated than “get a laptop and a hotspot”. Connectivity is more than just hardware. The digital divide could mean a lack of a laptop or modem. It could mean a lack of internet connection — a) fiber optics don’t reach every home in the state, b) hotspots are spotting at best, c) not everyone can afford to pay for the internet and low-income options aren’t available everywhere; d) educational inequities have created a group of students that have no digital literacy whatsoever. If OSPI wants school districts to “address connectivity gaps” then maybe OSPI should fund organizations like the Equity in Education Coalition — that has been working on a collective change to the digital divide that includes solutions to all four of the problems laid out above. 

3. School Meals: There are school districts that only distribute school meals once a week. Should you have a family with more than one child, that’s multiple boxes of school meals that you have to pick up. If you don’t have a car, you’ll have to find a way to get these boxes or have someone deliver them to you. If you can speak English well enough to ask someone to help. Also, school districts have punted this responsibility to PTA’s, community-based organizations, and local faith-based organizations. If OSPI wants school districts to offer meals, they have to offer guidance, oversight, and incentive for schools to ensure that students get fed. And yes, it kills me that I have to write that schools need to be incentivized to FEED OUR KIDS. 

4. “Local data to determine which of their students need additional intensive learning supports” is coded language for Special Education students, English Language Learners, and Low-Income students. The idea that *these* students should be the canaries in the coal mine that is the face to face classroom is an atrocity. There is evidence that education is a traumatic event for some students, because of ableism, colorism, racism, homophobia, and bullying. Some students do better in face to face classroom​ and that is an absolute fact​. That decision should be made by the parent, in collaboration with, and full partnership of their school district. 

5. This is basically asking every teacher to have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for every student in their classroom. Without additional support, pay, professional development on creating IEP’s, or parental understanding of what an IEP entails. Also, why are we limiting our educators in “the classroom” by trying to mimic face to face education in the virtual classroom? There are several different options that allow for students to learn at their own pace, teachers educate at their skill level and in their comfort, and allow for parents and guardians to hold students, teachers, and the school district accountable. Why is OSPI asking for something as rudimentary as attendance when, as a public entity, it can be leading the revolution to how excellent education can be offered to every student in this state, regardless of Zip Code, race, or ability. 

6. Again, this is in-the-box thinking for an out-of-the-box pandemic. Why are there limitations to the amount of days and hours being put on students when we could revolutionize how educational services get delivered to our children if we center how our children best receive educational services. 

I get it. We have to go back to work. We have jobs. Not everyone can work from home. I know parents that are panicking right now because some school districts have decided to stay virtual and remote for the Fall of 2020. I see you and I understand. 

OSPI should be centering the safety of our children and our families. There is a sense that the desire to “go back to normal” is more important than the safety of our children and our families — some of whom are also educators, staff, and administrators in public schools. Instead of setting new guidelines and changing the goalposts, OSPI should be working with communities of color, equity-based organizations, and parent groups to build solutions that are based on the needs of our children. 

We haven’t flattened the curve. The number of new cases is increasing at a rate that indicates it is not safe to return to schools. 

There is still a huge lack of masks, hand sanitizer, and understanding. In under 24 hours, the EEC distributed over 18K disposable masks, 9K cloth masks, and 5K bottles of hand sanitizer. 

The need is greater than we anticipated. The plans for keeping our schools disinfected are weak at best. 

We are under no illusion that distance learning is going to work for everyone. At all. The spring of 2020 has shown us just how badly the inequities are within many public institutions. 

We know all too well the students that have been failed by the public education system and we see them — working in their families restaurants, helping their families on the farm, taking that job at Target because no one else is hiring. We know families had to make difficult choices, and those choices were made because our system doesn’t center our most marginalized families when solving pandemic problems. 

Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders face disproportionately high rates of COVID-19 infection, illness, and death. 

School districts must invest now in the resources necessary to deliver high quality distance learning, including professional development for educators, connectivity for both students and educators, and caring trained professionals to support families through this challenging time. 

Now — TODAY — ​is the time to focus on anti-racist practices and policies if we are to have educational justice. 

NOW​ is the time to provide for counselors, family support, nurses, and mental health supports for both our distance and in-person learning. 

NOW​ is the time to provide professional development to parents, teachers, and students on the learning management systems that school districts will be using in the fall. 

NOW​ is the time to invest in community based organizations that center the lives and educational outcomes of students of color, immigrant, refugee, native, and undocumented. 

NOW​ is the time to reimagine what an excellent, student-centered educational system could look like that isn’t confined to a single classroom in a zip code. 

NOW​ is the time to deliver on the promise of the Civil Rights Act and create an educational system that cultivates the best in every student. 

NOW​ is the time to invest in creating an environment where every single student has access to the internet, a working laptop, an understanding of the software, homework, and expectations set by the school. 

The EEC is committed to continuing the work with the Governor, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, public education advocates, educators, principals, county and other elected officials to develop guidance that reflects the revolutionizing of the educational system amid the changing COVID-19 landscape. 

Sharonne Navas Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Equity in Education Coalition

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