Education disruptions hit vulnerable students hardest

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Even though schools have returned to full force across the country, the complications caused by the pandemic persist, often falling harder on those least able to overcome them: families without transportation, people on limited income or other financial hardships, people who do not speak English, children with special needs.

School coronavirus outbreaks and individual quarantine orders when students are exposed to the virus make it a gamble on whether they can attend classes in person on any given day. Many families do not know where to turn for information, or sometimes cannot be contacted.

And sometimes, due to the shortage of drivers, it’s that simple that the school bus doesn’t show up.

Keiona Morris, who lives without a car in McKeesport, Pa. Outside Pittsburgh, had no choice but to keep her boys at home on days the bus didn’t arrive. Her two sons missed about two weeks of school because of such disruption, she said.

Taking her oldest son to school on the civic bus system these days would mean not getting home in time to get her youngest to elementary school, she said.

“I feel like they are leaving my child behind,” Morris said. “Sometimes he feels like he’s not important enough to be chosen.”

For some families, it is a question of not having the private resources to deal with the breakdowns of the public education system. For others, language barriers or other communication problems leave them ill-informed about things like programs that allow students to return to school despite exposures to the virus, as long as they are negative for the virus. infection.

And while some students may attend school remotely during quarantines, others receive little or no instruction, or they lack the internet or devices to connect.

As districts search for solutions, they must consider this disproportionate burden, said Bree Dusseault, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington.

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

On the first day that shortages affected his son’s route, Morris did not see an early morning email notification stating that his son’s bus would be canceled, and the two waited at the stop for a journey that never came.

Staying at home has taken a toll on her children, both of whom are more engaged when they learn in person. On days when their bus was canceled and they didn’t have access to the day’s lesson, the makeup work intensified, putting them behind schedule for class, she said.

For her oldest son, she said, the transition to college and the missing social aspects of being with her peers were especially difficult.

The effects of unpredictable stretching at home can mirror those of chronic absenteeism and interfere with long-term learning, said Robert Balfanz, research professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education.

“The irregularity of your attendance is as important as the total amount you miss,” Balfanz said. “He lingers with you because you miss out on key learning moments that everything else builds on, and it can even lead to frustrations later on. ”

Some families have been better guided than others to go through unexpected and unstructured learning periods at home.

In Seattle, Sarah Niebuhr’s son Rubin was sent home for two weeks when he was identified as possible exposure to the virus. Because the show counted as an excused absence, Rubin said his son had not received any live instruction or consistent service for his reading disability, except for two sessions with specialists who turned to in four to meet him.

Without these services, she said, he finds it difficult to complete his job without constant supervision, which she could not provide by working from home.

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

To minimize days away from school, some districts have implemented a ‘test-to-stay’ option, where children can stay in school despite exposures to infected people as long as they continue to be. tested negative for COVID-19.

At Marietta City schools in Georgia, students who are tested go to a central location, where they undergo a rapid antigen test in the parking lot. A negative test means they can go to school that day, while those who test positive are headed into their 40s.

About 30% to 40% of eligible students participate, Superintendent Grant Rivera said, and the district has started to identify some barriers to access for families. Some cited transportation barriers or time constraints, such as work schedules.

About a quarter of families said they were unaware of the program, Rivera said. Parents are notified of the testing program when they learn their child is a close contact, and the district follows up via email.

“When we make that first phone call, there’s a kind of input overload and shock: ‘What am I going to do for my child, child care, and work? “” said Rivera. “We follow up with an email, but in a district with a high ESL immigrant population, 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 texting.

The possibility of further disruption keeps some parents on the alert.

For a while, McKeesport firefighters volunteered to lead the children to and from school. Recently the Morris children’s bus was on time. But she fears that she and her son will have to wait again.

“I have this worry in the back of my mind that this is going to happen again,” Morris said. “And if it does, I’m just going to be prepared to take my kids out of school and homeschool them, even if it will be more difficult for me.”

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Ma covers education and fairness for the AP Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/anniema15

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Associated Press reporting on issues of race and ethnicity is supported in part by the Department of Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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