Letter: COVID-19’s Impact on Schools

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COVID-19 has negatively impacted our students by increasing racial and socioeconomic disparities, exacerbating mental health issues, increasing hunger levels, and amplifying financial hardships for many families.

While there is no model to precisely gauge how COVID-19 will impact students’ learning, models from absenteeism, teacher strikes and weather-related closures can provide insight. Following teacher protests and Hurricane Katrina, for example, test scores were measurably down, while a Brookings Scholars study showed a dire 40% average loss in reading and mathematics.

This also presents a plethora of issues for students’ mental health, especially when one in five students report issues. Left untreated, they can contribute to difficulty concentrating, higher incarceration rates and lack of job security.

COVID-19 has also exacerbated disparities amongst schools and students, particularly in respect to resources, opportunities and support. Studies show these disparities can unfortunately be inadvertently compounded by parents, where college-educated, professionally flexible, and financially-stable parents are better positioned to counteract accrued learning deficits.

Hunger levels are also rising disproportionality since students are missing school meals, where one in three children are hungry.

Due to the economy and a decline in tax revenue, districts are looking to cut spending by as much as 20% for schools. Regrettably, the majority of these cuts will be targeted towards teachers who make up 85% of public schools’ budgets, consequently contributing to larger classes, lower achievement and greater difficulty with social distancing.

Funding will affect low-income districts, as they take into account achievement, district size and location, and are “heavily” reliant on their districts’ and states’ revenue.

The myriad of challenges will require a multi-faceted approach and robust response.

The federal government needs to simplify Electronic Health Records, leverage existing initiatives such as ECHO, increase Title I funding, and invest in the Individuals with Disability Act.

Schools should consider providing the California Department of Public Health with daily data on the number of people who have contracted COVID-19, and a maximum 5% positive test rate should be considered.

While I am a fierce proponent of education as a pathway to the middle-class, I believe safety is the priority and re-opening and in-person learning should be executed in a deliberate, pragmatic and thoughtful way.

As citizens, we must the epidemic of fear, thwart COVID’s cataclysmic impact and provide the social, human and educational capital needed for all students to thrive.

Slater Lawrence, Laguna Beach

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