Commentary: Let’s collaborate on ways to restore some of the classroom time lost to COVID-19

Seniors protest the Newport-Mesa Unified School District's decision to not hold in-person graduation ceremonies this year.
High school seniors on May 26 protest the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s decision to not hold in-person graduation ceremonies this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

When I first ran for school board, a friend who had served on a school board for 30 years took me out to lunch.

“At some point, you’re going to face some difficult decisions,” he said. “As you decide, remember, you are there for the kids. You choose what is best for them and the decisions will be easier.”

At no point would he have foreseen that his words would guide me through my first term as a school board member making the decisions of 2020. No one expected that schools would close, that we would take the leap into distance learning, that we would be faced with questions on how to come back from something we still really don’t understand.

And about that distance learning. My four elementary-aged kids have been so fortunate to have amazing teachers who have wholeheartedly taught them new concepts and creatively introduced math and language arts using the “Harry Potter” series and Kate DiCamillo books. It is high quality and innovative, but it is not a long term replacement for in-person school.

Public school serves many societal needs among which the academic education of children is just one component. In addition to childcare, and often food, participation in society and social-emotional development are integral parts of a flourishing society.

Families often choose to meet these needs in other ways, which is their right, but the need for education to be provided by the people for all people is a matter that has been insisted upon since the early days of our country.

Kids need to be in school for society to work and for children to learn the most. A recent Wall Street Journal article includes preliminary research that indicates only 70% of learning in language arts occurred and just 50% in math as compared to a typical year. Learning requires more than a visual experience, for younger children in particular. And remember when we were concerned about too much screen time?

I am advocating for students and their futures. Disruptions like these have shown over time, and across nations, to reduce the high school graduation rate and in turn lower lifetime earning power. Parents who have means will make sure that their children aren’t impacted, whether by paying for tutors in their homes or paying for private coaches and trainers. Those who have not, who have the most to lose, will now be even further behind.

No matter how we proceed, there will be mistakes. We have no historical precedent for how to re-open public schools after a pandemic. We still need to think of kids and their futures and go forward.

Parents, this is your time to stand up for kids and their futures, both for your own and for others. Write to your legislators. Run for office. Donate to charities that are helping to make up for the learning loss that has already occurred. If we do not, then our children’s generation will carry the burden of COVID-19 well after we have a vaccine.

The writer is a Newport-Mesa Unified School District board trustee.

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