- Title: Racial and economic disparities could impede at-home learning, educators say
- Date: 16th July 2020
- Summary: BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES (FILE - JULY 1, 2020) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF WORKERS WEARING MASKS MAKING SANDWICHES
- Embargoed: 30th July 2020 00:51
- Keywords: COVID-19 coronavirus education parents schools teacher
- Location: LOS ANGELES AND BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA, BETHESDA, MARYLAND AND BROOKLYN, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES
- City: LOS ANGELES AND BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA, BETHESDA, MARYLAND AND BROOKLYN, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES
- Country: USA
- Topics: Health/Medicine
- Reuters ID: LVA00BCMX9D8N
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: With coronavirus infections surging across the country and President Donald Trump advocating a return to school in the fall, Los Angeles elementary school teacher Stacey Joy breathed a sigh of relief when she found out district campuses would remain physically closed in August, and classes would be entirely online.
"My initial reaction was 'phew'. Honestly, I was so frightened that we would be put in a bad situation," she said.
A health issue puts Joy at high risk of severe COVID-19, but she was not only frightened for her own health, but equally concerned for her students and their families. Ninety percent of students at Baldwin Hills elementary school in south Los Angeles, where she teaches, are students of color and data from U.S. states has shown Black and brown people are more likely to die from the disease.
Public health professionals warn that children, although less likely to develop severe illness, can become sick from the virus and also pose a transmission risk to more vulnerable people.
After recent police killings of unarmed Black people and amid an atmosphere of heightened racial tension, Joy said her students and their parents were already in a state of unease.
"I just felt like we were already in a situation with, you know, just managing being okay and our wellness, and students being afraid and teachers being afraid and parents being afraid. And then the thought of coming back, not knowing if everyone would be safe, it was, it was terrifying," she said.
Tunette Powell, 34, interim director, UCLA Parent Empowerment Project, a project focused on developing parent engagement and parent leadership in schools, especially at schools serving families of color, said distance learning can highlight longstanding racial and economic disparities in access to education.
"How are we going to ensure that, you know, there's equity as much as can be across where kids learn. So for some children, they're going to start their first day of school at a homeless shelter. And our district's reaching out and trying to find support for them. For some kids, it's going to be in a one bedroom apartment where you don't have that quiet space to go and learn," she said.
Lower income parents and parents of color are also often frontline workers and have to leave home every day without being able to afford or access childcare, leading to issues of where their children will go to learn, Powell said.
The abrupt shift to distance learning in the spring also exposed disparities within the schools themselves, as teachers struggled to cobble together online instruction using a hodgepodge of laptops, iPads and other devices their students had at home, with little or no tech support.
Joy's is also worried about students' more basic needs. With the majority of students receiving free or subsidized meals, she fears they'll go hungry if the school district is not able to continue providing take-out meals, as it has been doing since the start of the pandemic.
"I mean, you can give them the device, but if they're hungry, they're not learning," she said.
The decision to keep schools closed brought mixed emotions from Los Angeles County parents, who worry about their children's exposure to the virus but also bear the burden of acting as at-home surrogate teachers.
Powell, with a full-time job she has done from home since the outbreak began, has been solely responsible for overseeing the daily school lessons of her three sons, aged 5, 9 and 11. Even with her Ph.D. in education, she struggles with homeschooling.
She said the first thing she did when she heard LAUSD would return to at-home instruction was call her therapist for an appointment.
"It's not easy," she said.
Joy said she has received comments on social media saying teachers should get back to work and referring to online classes in the spring as a long vacation for teachers.
"I remember at the beginning of the pandemic and school closing, it was like praise all educators because now the parents are like, 'oh, my gosh, what are we going to do?' And it was cute just to see the sudden 'we love our teachers and we miss our teachers'. And then now it's shifting back to, you know, we don't really care if you live or die in some areas and you need to go back and do your job," she said.
(Production: Jane Ross)
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