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.

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