We’re living in extraordinary times. Nationwide school closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have not only disrupted millions of lives, they have further entrenched long-standing disparities in our public school system and placed students who are already vulnerable at even greater risk. For the 2020-2021 school year, policymakers, educators, families and students face impossible choices as our nation balances the urgent need to protect people from a deadly pandemic with the responsibility to deliver on the promise of a high-quality education for all.
While our nation evaluates the right approach to embarking on the 2020-2021 school year, and debates the merits of various models—ranging from full distance learning, to fully reopening schools, to various hybrids in between—we must not lose sight of the broader moral picture.
As the nation’s leading faith-rooted organization mobilizing people of faith to advocate for educational equity, The Expectations Project believes the moral test of our education system is whether our most vulnerable students are prioritized. Motivated by our faith and values, we will advocate for—and urge decision-makers to embrace—these Five Principles on Educational Equity and COVID-19: Prioritizing Vulnerable Students During the 2020-2021 School Year:
FIVE PRINCIPLES ON EDUCATIONAL EQUITY AND COVID-19:
1) Prioritize the needs of vulnerable students and families. Low-income families are more likely to be harmed by COVID-19 and decreased learning opportunities.
- The Federal Government should provide school districts with more low-income students with additional funding to make-up for academic loss during the last school year.
- School Districts should provide socio-emotional resources for students experiencing higher rates of trauma during the pandemic.
- If schools mandate distance learning, subsidized child care must be available for elementary students whose parents must leave the home to work.
- Federal and State governments should approve emergency funding for paid leave for families supporting younger students with distance learning.
2) Stabilize public school budgets with emergency funding. The pandemic has blown massive holes through the middle of the budgets of most public school districts, with little emergency financial relief. Our public schools have risen to meet the moment and should be eligible for emergency Federal funding on the same terms as private schools (who have been able to access PPP loans) and other local governments receiving aid.
3) Provide schools with more resources for in-person and/or distance learning. The challenges of educating in the midst of a global pandemic require more funding, not less.
- Schools reopening for in-person learning need additional funding for personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, and updated ventilation systems to protect students and educators from COVID-19.
- Schools engaging in distance learning or a hybrid model need additional funds for teacher professional development, individual student devices, and access to high-speed internet for all families.
4) Center the voices of students, families and educators in decisions. We cannot make informed and holistic decisions without bringing all parties to the table. This includes student, family and educator surveys and feedback sessions, allowing families and educators some choice and flexibility to make decisions best for their situation.
5) Respect and value educators and school leaders. Our educators are heroes. Threatening to suspend teachers contracts or withhold funding from schools that choose distance learning is a clear bright line and we will oppose any who cross it. At a time when we should be stronger together, threats of this nature will not be tolerated.