Thursday, December 2, 2021

Learning disruptions affect vulnerable students the most

While schools are returning to full strength across the country, complications from the pandemic persist, often especially severe for those least able to endure them: families without transportation, people with limited income or other financial difficulties, people who do not speak in English. , children with special needs.

Coronavirus outbreaks in schools and separate quarantine orders when students are exposed to the virus are betting on whether they will be able to attend classes in person on any given day. Many families do not know where to go for information, or sometimes it is impossible to find them.

And sometimes, due to a lack of drivers, it’s as easy as missing the school bus.

Keyona Morris, who lives without a car in McKesport, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, has no choice but to keep her boys at home on days when the bus doesn’t arrive. According to her, two of her sons missed classes for two weeks due to such interruptions.

In those days, she said, taking her eldest son to school on the city bus would mean not getting home in time to take her youngest to elementary school.

“I feel like they’re dumping my baby,” Morris said. “Sometimes he thinks that he is not important enough to be taken.”

For some families, the problem is the lack of private resources to deal with disruptions in the public education system. For others, language barriers or other communication problems leave them unaware of things like programs that allow students to return to school despite being exposed to the virus, provided their infection test is negative.

While some students may visit school remotely during quarantine, others receive little or no instruction or lack the Internet or devices to connect.

“When counties look for solutions, they must take this disproportionate burden into account,” said Brie Dussault, director of the Center for Public Education Renewal at the University of Washington.

“If you are going to use the test as a tool to shorten the quarantine period, then all students will have equal, free and easy access to the test,” she said.

On the first day that a shortage of goods impacted her son’s itinerary, Morris did not see early email notification that her son’s bus would be canceled, and they both waited at the stop for a ride that never arrived.

The stay at home has taken its toll on her children, who are both more involved in personal learning. On days when their bus was canceled and they didn’t have access to afternoon lessons, she said, makeup work piled up and they fell behind in class.

For her eldest son, the transition to high school and the omission of the social aspects of socializing with peers was particularly difficult, she said.

According to Robert Balfantz, a research professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Education, the effects of unpredictable stretching at home can reflect the effects of chronic absenteeism and lead to long-term harm to learning.

“The unevenness of your attendance is just as important as the total amount you missed,” Balfanz said. “It lingers on with you because you miss the key learning points on which everything else is built, and it can even lead to further frustration.”

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Some families had more leadership than others in unexpected, unstructured periods of home study.

In Seattle, Sarah Niebuhr’s son Rubin was sent home for two weeks when it was identified as a possible infection with the virus. Since the revelation was counted as a justified absence, Rubin said her son received no live instructions and no ongoing service regarding his inability to read, with the exception of two sessions with specialists who struggled to meet with him.

Without these services, she says, he struggles to get the job done without constant supervision, which she could not provide when working from home.

“There really was nothing,” Rubin said. When her son returned to class, she said it felt like the school year was “starting over.”

To minimize the number of days out of school, some districts have introduced a “test to stay” option where children can stay in school despite contact with infected people as long as they test negative for COVID. 19.

At schools in Marietta, Georgia, students undergoing testing are sent to a central location where they are given a rapid antigen test in a parking lot. A negative test means they can go to school the same day, and those who test positive are quarantined.

There are between 30% and 40% of eligible students participating, Superintendent Grant Rivera said, and the district has begun to identify some barriers to family access. Some cited traffic obstacles or time constraints such as work schedules.

Rivera said about a quarter of families said they were unaware of the program. Parents are notified of the testing program when they learn that their child is in close contact and the district sends an email.

“When we make that first phone call, it’s kind of overwhelmed and shocked:“ What do I do with my baby, childcare and work? “Rivera said. “We are monitoring the email, but in an area with a large number of ESL immigrants, the email may not be understood by all family members or they may not receive it.”

Rivera said he hopes to expand messaging through community partners as well as other methods such as text messaging.

The possibility of further disruption keeps some parents on their toes.

For a while, firefighters in McKesport voluntarily drove the children to and from school. Morris’s kid’s bus arrived on time recently. But she fears that she and her son will have to wait again.

“Deep down, it worries me that this will happen again,” Morris said. “And if that happens, I’ll just be ready to pick my kids out of school and homeschool them, even if it’s harder for me.”


Ma covers education and equality issues for the AP team by race and ethnicity. Follow her on Twitter:


Associated Press reports on race and ethnicity are supported in part by the Science Education Department of the Howard Hughes Institute of Medicine. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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