School Shutdowns Hurt Low-Income, Minority Kids The Most
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEB. 6: Hundreds of people march to City Hall after rallying outside the SFUSD building, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021, in San Francisco, Calif. People protested against remote education and demanded schools to reopen in-person education. (Santiago Mejia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)
Santiago Mejia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

The San Francisco Chronicle detailed a report in late January displaying how minority children and those from low-income families have been academically harmed by the pandemic more than wealthier, white students. School lockdowns seem to have a worse effect on these children’s education, according to data released by the San Francisco school district.

According to The Chronicle, “Black and Latino students were also more likely to be absent at least 60% of the time during the fall semester.”

The report comes after the CDC released guidelines detailing how schools can reopen last week, and the Biden administration’s lack of involvement has been criticized for appearing to be more concerned with the teachers’ unions than with getting students back into the classroom.

Last week, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky discussed the efforts to reopen schools. However, it is still unclear when this will happen.

On Monday, The Daily Wire reported,

Oddly, Walensky closed the press conference by noting that she and the CDC could not commit to the idea that following their own guidelines to the letter would produce full time, in-classroom learning again, even if all teachers were fully vaccinated. Instead, she suggested that “mitigation strategies” would have to remain in effect until there was evidence of vaccine “durability.”

Health experts say that academic struggles are not the only thing negatively affecting children “across the demographic spectrum, with mental health, eating disorders and emotional scarring adding to a devastating picture,” The Chronicle notes.

The UCSF director of COVID response, Dr. Jeanne Noble, said, “There are so many kids in this pandemic who just haven’t been heard from at all…Every place you look — signs of social phobia and isolation all the way up to suicide attempts — screams crisis.”

Schools are also concerned with the difficulties of getting students back on track after they do resume in-person learning. Children who have fallen behind will reportedly “likely fall below grade level in academics, missing key foundational skills needed to advance.”

However, some might not be forthright about how dire the situation is for children from disadvantaged communities.

As reported by The Chronicle,

School board President Gabriela López did not specifically address the problem of learning loss, but she said that parents are doing an amazing job helping their students and that learning has not stopped during the pandemic — rather, it is just different.

“They are learning more about their families and their cultures, spending more time with each other,” López said. “They’re just having different learning experiences than the ones we currently measure, and the loss is a comparison to a time when we were in a different space.”

The mode of learning might be different, but the data from San Francisco seems to confirm that students are struggling, and “[g]roups that were lagging tended to fall further behind.”

Asian students overall, while losing more academic ground than whites, started from a point of generally outperforming all other demographics, including whites. Groups that were lagging tended to fall further behind.

San Francisco Unified School District spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said that there are supports that have been created to help under-served youth, but acknowledged that “remote doesn’t replace in person when it comes to serving our students. We want to return to (school) sites as quickly as possible.”

The San Francisco Unified School District has been criticized recently for its efforts to rename 44 schools whose names they reportedly claim represent “White supremacy.”

On Tuesday, Fox News reported that the school board postponed a vote on reopening schools and chose to discuss the renaming issue. The report came from a tweet sent out by one of The San Francisco Chronicle’s education reporters:

“The SFUSD school board vote on a tentative labor deal on health and safety reopening requirements has been delayed. Instead, the board will be in closed session tonight over a legal issue, reportedly related to the renaming of 44 schools. It’s unclear why the board can’t do both.”

In addition to learning loss, The Chronicle notes that attendance was also a problem among students, “with 910 of the district’s 53,000 students missing more than 60% of classes,” according to the district. “Seventy percent of those were from low-income families — a disproportionate share compared with overall enrollment — while 75% were Black or Latino.”

San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen has reportedly referred to this problem as a form of systemic racism. However, the school district seems intent on changing decisions of the past rather than creating solutions for the present day. The data from San Francisco is evidence that a delay in getting students back into classrooms hurts minority children the most.

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