Families critical in any plan to reopen schools The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Families critical in any plan to reopen schools

Families critical in any plan to reopen schools
Opinion
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By Daniel D. Liou
Tribune Guest Writer

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many families are wondering whether and how schools will reopen this fall.

There are still many uncertainties about how schools will handle new social distancing and potential shifts between in-person and remote instruction.

Many signals point to the persistence of this pandemic until we implement comprehensive testing, commit to contact tracing, and ultimately develop effective vaccines.

Keeping schools safe, however, is as much about what happens off school property as it is about what happens on it.

School happens in a social and economic context and this pandemic has exacerbated existing inequities in society. People in low-income and communities of color are losing jobs, getting infected and dying at a greater rate.

Now we have a chance to forge an effective full-society response. It’s imperative, however, that we understand that a full-society response is not a one-size-fits-all response. Communities differ in their needs; context, resources, and capacity matter.

Safe living conditions contribute to healthy learning environments and safe schools can strengthen the safety in homes.

To mitigate the social and economic fallout from COVID-19, the Arizona Department of Education should provide a framework to help district and school leaders work closely with families to coordinate resources and services.

State officials, health experts, school leaders, and families should work together in safe, accessible and centralized spaces to actively address issues such as food stability, employment, health care, transportation, housing, and water quality.

These wraparound support systems should include a consortium of leaders who can secure the trust of local communities and are capable of adapting policy and protocol to local needs.

By localizing networks of experts who actively support families at home, we can stabilize students’ learning environments and educators’ working environments.

Even in the best of times, providing excellent education to all learners is a challenge we do not consistently meet. Despite heroic efforts by educators, the quality of learning has suffered during the pandemic.

There are huge variations in the degree to which individual teachers and schools are prepared to deliver remote instruction.

Additionally, the transition to online learning has disadvantaged learners with limited or no internet access. For the nearly 30 percent of Arizona students who speak a language other than English at home, access to technology is no guarantee of successful navigation of online learning resources.

Further, many families are unsure how best to meet the unique learning needs of their children, especially the 11 percent of students who qualify for disability services.

Teachers must be better prepared to provide digital instruction as schools reopen. Districts should look to community organizations, the private sector, and universities to increase the quality of remote instruction, including narrowing the technology gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers.

Curriculum leaders, tutors and translators should also work closely with families to meet the learning needs of immigrant students and students with disabilities.

Universities adept at designing and delivering online instruction should be involved in providing professional development to teachers.

Decisions about how schools manage the challenges of the next school year need to be made with knowledge of what is happening in local communities and homes. That means they need to be made with the leadership and participation of all stakeholders, including families of all backgrounds.

Daniel D. Liou, an associate professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, serves on the Arizona Department of Education’s Equitable and Inclusive Practices Advisory Council. Information:  azed.gov/communications/2020/03/10/guidance-to-schools-on-covid-19.

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