School closure & vulnerable students – Update from The Education Trust-Midwest
Dear friends and partners,
What an unprecedented last week this has been – a time of rapid change for all of us. For those of us lucky enough to work from home, as our staff at The Education Trust-Midwest has been doing since last week, it’s been a week of great recalibration. I hope this note finds you and your families healthy and well.
Like many of you, this week I am homeschooling my young daughter – a 2nd grader – while balancing work demands. My husband and I are taking turns working in the evenings and teaching her during the day. We feel incredibly fortunate and thankful to have jobs that enable us to do this.
As a kid growing up in family that struggled economically for many years, I’m not sure what my working mom would have done during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. Many working-class and low-income families are facing extraordinary challenges right now, from lacking quality child care to homeschooling children while working long hours away from home, to facing job cutbacks due to the crisis. My thoughts and prayers are with these families.
The inequities of this moment
The COVID-19 crisis is illuminating the great disparities, not only in our public health system, but also in our public education system. In some communities, teaching and learning through the public school systems essentially have shut down. High-poverty districts are struggling to scale online learning, if they can at all. In other districts, teaching and learning are continuing while lunches are being provided daily.
For students who have historically been underserved in school and in the community, the impact of this pandemic is expected to be particularly disruptive and potentially devastating. The very students who depend on school for closing the gaps of opportunity and access in their lives are also more likely to be reading below grade level – and less likely to have access to technology and resources that make learning from home during this crisis possible.
Indeed, the inequities of this moment for Michigan’s children are extraordinary. This is a moment for leaning in – for ensuring the needs of vulnerable students will be not only met but championed. We are asking you to join us in that effort at this critical time.
The time is now
In the coming days and weeks, our organization will be taking more steps as a state and national organization to ensure what is best for vulnerable students is a greater priority in national and state decision-making. The time is now.
Here in Michigan, we can start by amplifying the Fair Funding movement. Now more than ever, schools and districts need fair funding to meet the needs of their students not only in the moment but also in preparation for the forthcoming school year. Investment will be needed to catch up students who are missing school now and may already be well behind in learning, as is the case for thousands of Michigan students.
Hundreds of Michiganders already have sent letters and pledges to state policymakers and asking them to fairly and adequately fund all students’ public education.
If you haven’t taken the pledge, please take a moment to do so – and share it with your friends and colleagues.
In the meantime, I wanted to share a few other initial thoughts:
Clear Communication with all Michigan families:
School and state leaders are working quickly to provide information and guidance to their constituents in a timely way. As this work develops, it will be critical for resources to be provided in the languages spoken by all families in Michigan’s communities including Arabic, Spanish and other languages. We applaud those already doing this important step and call on others to do so, as well.
Our organization is working to do our part beginning with a fact sheet on Educational Equity and Coronavirus (available in English, Arabic and Spanish). We hope you’ll share it with your networks and communities.
Providing for every child:
Last school year, more than 760,000 Michigan students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch and breakfast. This represents just over half of all Michigan students in schools large and small; rural, urban and suburban; rich and poor. For thousands, cancelled school can mean childhood hunger. We applaud Governor Whitmer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Superintendents across the state for their swift action to ensure that as schools statewide close, meal continue to be provided to those who depend on it.
Students also rely on their school for a range of other academic and non-academic services. As this crisis continues, it will be imperative that local, state and federal agencies collaborate to provide students with ample learning opportunities and a range of wrap-around services to ensure the health and wellbeing of our children, in addition to preventing learning loss while schools are closed.
Standing up for every child:
Times of significant change and challenge can bring out the best in us. Unfortunately, they can bring out the worst, too.
Over the past several weeks, reports of racist and xenophobic bullying in schools have increased. Over the past two decades, we have seen spikes in xenophobia and student bullying during times of crisis, from sentiments against Arab Americans in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, xenophobia against Hispanic Americans around the 2016 federal election, and now racist sentiments against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 crisis.
We have been hearing of such bullying of students of both Asian and Latinx backgrounds. Please help us set a healthy and positive climate in our state during this crisis, not only now but also when classes resume.
Throughout this crisis and after, we invite you to stand with us, fighting for the educational needs of Michigan’s most vulnerable students. We will be in touch more about ways to do that.
Thank you and best wishes to you and your family during this time,
Amber Arellano, Executive Director
The Education Trust-Midwest