Right now—literally, as I’m sitting here typing—I’m watching my friend toggle between distance learning with her son and responding to work emails. It’s the most admirable and cutest thing in the world to me, but her energy is screaming, “I’m not built for this shit!” Clearly having to teach a hyper five-year-old every day until the government figures how to get a hold on the coronavirus ain’t cute to her.
Seven months deep into this pandemic, my heart really hurts for these kids and parents.
Admittedly in the beginning, I was saying kids can’t go back to school because of how the virus spreads so easily and the lack of control we have over that spread. And, as always, I was more concerned about Black kids in low-income communities returning because we already know the system doesn’t give a damn about their safety and well-being.
But I’m switching up now—they have to go back to school and soon. The sanity and livelihoods of parents, social, emotional, physical well-being of and overall, academic futures of students are at stake.
We’ve gone in deep about the opportunity gaps that will undoubtedly blow up wider than all outside after this is all said and done. Also, we’ve exposed the ugliness of the digital divide in the severe absence of essentials like devices and inaccessibility to quality broadband to even learn at home. But there’s some other big shit we haven’t been talking about enough. I'll start with how many students have gone “missing” during the pandemic.
Bellwether Education Partners recently did a report called Missing in the Margins: Estimating the Scale of the COVID-19 Attendance Crisis, which does a deep dive into student attendance during the pandemic.
Y’all, according to this report there are about three million students—all from marginalized communities—that haven’t been in a physical or virtual classroom since March. [pullquote]Somebody please tell me how in the hell we lost three million students?[/pullquote] THREE MILLION! And look, I legit think school districts are doing the best they can with tracking but honestly, this sounds like the implementation of the same old ineffective systems and historically trash ass jobs in family and student engagement have finally blown up in their faces.
As a result, this means that some of these missing students will forever be lost. Studies show two-thirds of high school dropouts never re-enroll and some of the ones that do, end up dropping out again. If this ain’t a modern day pushout tactic, I don’t know what is.
What I also can’t help to think about is how some of these missing students may be being held hostage in abusive households or other toxic environments.
A few weeks ago a story broke in Chicago about a seven year old student being sexually assaulted by her 18 year old cousin during a Google classroom session.
What’s even more disturbing about this situation is all the other students in that virtual class saw this going down and will always be haunted by that memory. And earlier this week a good friend of mine told me he walked into a school and saw the exact same thing happening to two other students. Imagine how many others kids there are out there being beaten, sexually abused, starved or verbally torn down? If the thought of this doesn’t anger and/or sicken you, you’re not wrapped too tight.
Mental health supports in schools in marginalized communities were already scarce, but given the extreme circumstances and pressures of COVID, investment in more counselors, caseworkers, prevention and intervention services should’ve been the first thing the Department of Education, state and local governments prioritized, especially with the safe haven schools provide for many no longer being an option.
But, they’ll fight tooth and nail to avoid redirecting funds from police and SROs to those much needed resources. Politics, law and order once again prevail over the lives of our kids—SMH.
And last, we haven’t for real talked about how much parents are struggling. I know some teachers think it’s funny that parents are now getting a chance to see how terrible their kids really are, but at the end of the day, they are not trained educators, nor have they received much support from school districts on how to make this work. They’re trying to balance work, family and distance learning and in some states, the threat of truancy is lurking on their doorstep if they miss a beat.
My sis, Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, has been saying school is essential for a minute now and she's absolutely right. This negligence of the reality and detriment of COVID-19 has gone too far, is causing substantial suffering and irreparable damage to the lives of students and families, especially those in marginalized communities.
In these crazy and unpredictable times, we don’t know what’s going to happen next Tuesday as far as the election. But what’s for damn sure is somebody has to figure this out because kids have to be able to go back to school soon—it’s beyond time.
Zakiya Sankara-Jabar is the former National Director of Activism at brightbeam, the parent organization of Education Post. She is the co-founder of Racial Justice NOW! and most recently served as the National Field Organizer at Dignity in Schools Campaign. Zakiya came to organizing, advocacy, and policy work organically as a parent pushing back on harmful school discipline policies that disproportionately impact Black students and their families. Zakiya's organizing and advocacy acumen has led to significant policy changes at the local and state level in the state of Ohio. Since then, Zakiya has worked in communities all across the country sharing tools, strategies, and skills with Black parents to shift education policy and practice. Zakiya has been named to the inaugural #Power50 leadership fellowship for women of color with Community Change and the Community Activist Fellowship with Wayfinder Foundation. Zakiya is a preeminent thought leader in racial and education justice and has received numerous awards. In her free time, Zakiya enjoys traveling and spending time with her husband and two children.
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