Focusing on Students with Greater Needs is NOT Inequitable

Hi Friends!
I hope you’re all healthy and managing this crisis well. I wrote the words below in a response to a group member who shared that many parents are frustrated about APS not teaching new material and that some are arguing that this decision is inequitable. I’d love your feedback.
I think it’s good to acknowledge that parents are unhappy with APS and its choices about how to handle distance learning. I imagine a lot of the angst is partially because so many parents are already so involved in their students’ success (very Type A) and the virus (which no one has any control over) cannot be yelled at, so APS is the next best thing. I think there are legitimate concerns about how APS is handling things, but I also think they are trying their best in very swiftly evolving and unpredictable circumstances. I also know that many families are oblivious to the significant challenges many families are facing with food, jobs, and basic support.
Examples of types of privilege particularly relevant to this health crisis:Economic security
Food security
Healthcare access — ability to adequately adhere to social distancing
Information access — stable cell phone service
Technology access — unlimited and adequate internet access at home, accessible and adequate devices at home
Family support — caregivers working from home and able to assist with distance learning and adequate child care
Supports in place to handle mental health challenges
Language — English spoken at home
Physical space for learning — includes access to school supplies
Neurotypical learning patterns or support for atypical learning patterns
Students with these privileges are far less likely to suffer permanent loss of learning or lasting negative impacts from school closures over the next year. The privileges they benefit from will allow them to weather this crisis and be ready to learn in whatever format is provided by APS. The caregivers of many of these students have already engaged additional education supports, via tutoring, online coursework, and other educational instruction to supplement anything APS provides. This was true before schools closed and it continues to be true (perhaps increasing) since schools closed. These students are not an at-risk population during this crisis.
As of October 2019, 8,083 students, or 29% of the APS student body, qualified for free or reduced meals. Of those, 6,376 qualified for free meals, which means that their family is living on less than $36,000 a year. The 1,707 students who qualified for reduced meals were in families living on less than $46,250 a year. These numbers have increased since schools closed due to job losses, reduced hours, and increased expenses.
Some APS students are serving as primary caregivers to younger siblings, whose caregivers are out of work or who must leave the home to continue to work. Some APS families have increased health risks from a lack of healthcare access and some are traveling distances to receive free food from APS or local food pantries. Some APS families are unable to maintain a phone number because they can no longer afford it and some do not have internet access at home. Some APS students are experiencing trauma at home because of increased or new economic insecurity because their family income has decreased or disappeared. Some APS students are living in crowded conditions and do not have the ability to practice social distancing, much less have a space dedicated to their learning. These are the students who are at risk during this crisis and who need additional support.
If APS were to implement a distance learning plan with new material for all of its students, a significant portion of APS students would not be able to access the program because of barriers related to the privileges above. Instead, the equitable action is to ensure that every APS student receives the support they need in order to access learning at the same basic level so that none of our students are left out of this process. This action does not disadvantage privileged students. It addresses inequities that persist in our school system and gives us the opportunity to truly provide equitable education to all Arlington students.
The best use of our energy is to advocate for the students who do not have these privileges. PTAs and community organizations are stepping up and collaborating with each other to support food pantries, school supply and book drives, grocery store gift card donations, and more. APS teachers and school staff have been working since before schools closed to ensure that students received and continue to receive paper copies of school work and other resources to help them learn at home. They continue to check in with their students on a weekly basis, if not more often, to provide support and comfort during a very difficult time. Everyone is adjusting to a new way of teaching and learning, a process bound to be difficult.
Many of the school districts around the country that have adapted quickly to these challenges already had structures in place because their geographic areas experience significant snow or other related events. It would benefit all of our school systems to adopt these resiliency measures going forward. While it would have been nice if APS had these structures in place before this crisis, it did not, so we must go through the messy process to create them. Our focus must be on the students who need our support as we adjust to this new reality so that no one is left behind.
Remember, having privilege doesn’t mean that this crisis isn’t hard for you. It’s hard for all of us. It just means that you have supports in place that make it less difficult for you than it is for someone who does not have those privileges.
Stay strong out there.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.

School Board Elections and Budget Processes

Hi Friends!
I hope you’re all well.
Please note that APS has changed its public comment process on policy revisions and amendments. Policy drafts are made available for 30 days and are open for comment during that time. Please engage with this and submit comments from an equity perspective to show APS that families care about equity and how it is implemented into meaningful action.
Please stay informed about the APS Budget process. There are significant cuts ahead of us and pushing for equity is NOT a luxury. Ensuring that we have skillful teachers and school staff on hand when our students return is a necessity, particularly because many students will be experiencing trauma during the closures and the summer due to economic distress or other difficult circumstances. We must advocate for everything our students will need to successfully navigate the return to school (whatever that looks like) and for the work it will take to address each student’s needs for learning and thriving at school. Equity must be the lens through which we do all of these things — it is not an extra feature of something, it should be the underlying reason for what we do.
And of course, there’s also the County Budget process. Please encourage our leadership to focus on everything through an equity lens, per the recent Equity Resolution they passed last September. We cannot go backwards. We must continue to prioritize equity in everything we do.
I’m working on putting together some virtual conversations with a few individual School Board candidates to get a better understanding of what they mean when they talk about educational equity. It has become a buzz word many are using, so let’s ask them to help us understand what that means to them. I’ll keep you posted once those are confirmed.
Five candidates are running in the Arlington Democrats School Board Caucus — which is changing to vote-by-mail only. Ballot requests must be received (not postmarked) by Arlington Democrats by May 7. The Caucus is a competition to receive the endorsement of the Arlington Democrats — typically the path to victory during the School Board election. The actual School Board election is in November.
There is at least one other candidate on the November ballot who cannot be in the caucus, because she is a federal employee:
On April 28, the Arlington Democrats are hosting a School Board Forum at 7:00 pm on Facebook Live. It would be amazing if we had a great showing of equity-minded participants and maybe even some race-related questions (I’m not sure how they’re handling that part).
Please feel free to share this information. And PLEASE VOTE!
- An article by Christian Davenport, Aaron Gregg, and Craig Timberg about how “Working from home reveals another fault line in America’s racial and educational divide
- Homeschool Resources, described as “A small collection of crowdsourced anti-oppressive, anti-racist homeschool curriculum ideas and resources for families impacted by closures caused by the coronavirus.”
- White Awake is hosting an online course on “Solidarity and Intersectionality” starting April 26 (register by April 25).
- Volunteer Arlington has a new “Buy A Neighbor Lunch” campaign.
- EmbraceRace is hosting “How We Can Help Our Children to Be ‘Disaster-resilient’ & Why We Must” this evening, April 22 at 8:30 pm.
- The Alliance for Housing Solutions shared “Virginia Housing Victories Clouded, But Not Obscured, By Pandemic” — things to celebrate and to continue to advocate for, even as budgets are uncertain.
- Kailee Scales wrote “The Pandemic Is Devastating to Black People. Here’s What We Can Do About It.
- Sojung Yi wrote “I’m an Asian American doctor on the front lines of two war: Coronavirus and racism.
- Integrated Schools wrote “On COVID & Integration
- Learning Policy Institute’s Michael Griffith wrote “COVID-19 and School Funding: What to Expect and What You Can Do
Please stay safe and healthy. Reach out if you need anything, have a buddy or two, and hang in there.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.

Advocacy and How All Things Connect

Hi Friends!
This week, I’m trying to catch up some things and give you some things to read in your copious free time (ha!).
Advocate with your Virginia legislators to request that the Virginia Department of Social Services activates the policy option to waive the asset limit and increase the income limit for eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This doesn’t require legislative action, but our legislators can share what they are hearing from their constituents and get this policy option activated. This program is not accessible for people who are undocumented, but it is still a valuable tool for many families who are going to need financial assistance to buy food.
Support democracy by supporting equitable voting options. Consider the recent news about the US Post Office and its solvency and how that single organization could be the lynchpin to mail-in voting (and absentee voting). It’s all connected and voter suppression is a key function of systemic discrimination. Pay attention and advocate for equal access and information for all populations who are eligible to vote. Governor Northam made some recent moves to support this.
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I really appreciate the sense of mission and purpose in this statement from the Legal Aid Justice Center:
“In light of current actions taking place in Virginia due to the coronavirus pandemic, we must ensure that low-income residents of our Commonwealth do not shoulder increased risk, bear extra burdens, experience discrimination, or get left out of supportive measures.
“Without a state mandate for paid sick leave, many low-income residents cannot afford to take time off work to self-isolate or care for others without risking losing their homes to eviction or seeing their utilities shut off. More than 500,000 children statewide rely on free or reduced-price school meals to maintain nutrition, and families may be unable to access the technology needed to access virtual instruction. Adults and youth held in Virginia’s prisons, jails, and detention centers are particularly vulnerable to the spread of disease and deserve to be protected with adequate sanitation and medical care or, if possible, be released. Immigrant and undocumented community members need equal access to any relief programs and should not be forced to avoid seeking medical treatment due to their status and fear of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is just the beginning of a long list of issues that our clients and communities face every day, but with the rise of this statewide emergency, the need for immediate action is even more acute.
“State and local officials should move swiftly to implement measures to protect all Virginians, with special care to ensure that every person in the Commonwealth gets the message and that no one, regardless of income, location, or immigration status, is left out. They must work with advocacy organizations and community groups who are on the ground identifying the needs of Virginians facing huge and possibly life-threatening obstacles in this time of crisis.”
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- Local non-profit R.E.A.D. has started a fundraiser to help get books into students’ hands.
Remember self-care:
Headspace is offering some content for free.
- Lots of yoga studios are offering free online classes.
- Coshandra Dillard’s article “Speaking Up Against Racism Around the New Coronavirus
- Teaching Tolerance’s article “How to Respond to Coronavirus Racism
- Cory Collins’s article “Teaching Through Coronavirus: What Educators Need Right Now
- Embrace Race’s article “Supporting children in the struggle against covid-19
- A local illustration of how an unhappy event in someone’s life can lead them to continue on to do great things.
- The March 18 Restorative Arlington webinar is available online (slides and recording).
- The National Museum of African American History and Culture has an online learning portal available for free.
Stay healthy and safe.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.

Food Distribution and Vulnerable Populations

Hi Friends!
I’m sorry I missed an update for you last week. We were focused on the third food pantry event at my children’s school and my involvement with countywide efforts has been ramping up. I hope you’re all having a good “spring break.”
I distributed a letter today about food distribution efforts in the County. Please check it out and let me know if you’d like to be involved. The countywide networking is still moving forward to have contacts in every neighborhood for coordinating volunteers and encouraging everyone to have a buddy or two. The food distribution effort specifically is beyond that, including existing organizations like AFAC, including school-related food pantry efforts, and including food pantries at faith communities, and also expanding to other potential distribution sites and a countywide food acquisition, storage, and bagging process. Feel free to share!
I have some strong concerns about the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s decision to move forward with the School Board caucus by mail. If they were sending a ballot to every registered voter, with prepaid return postage, then I would cheer this effort happily. However, they are requiring that people request a ballot online or by filling out a form and mailing it in, which must be received by May 7. Then a ballot will be mailed (assuming the person is a registered voter), which then must be returned by May 30. This has significant equity barriers because of a lack of internet access and/or a printer for many community members. It also begs the question again of why a partisan organization is involved in a non-partisan race at all. The most equitable thing to do is to have ALL School Board candidates on the ballot in November.
Please feel free to share equity concerns with me (or the group) as they come up. The examples are so numerous — here’s a great resource for understanding how inequality leads to higher risks for vulnerable populations.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.