Stevie Wonder's legendary song asks us: "What happened to the world we knew.." That world has disappeared, and it will be a long time before normalcy returns.
We know that almost all states have closed their public schools, and approximately 55 million K-12 students continue to work remotely. New Jersey is one of the states most devastated by the pandemic, and despite our governor's good intentions, is almost last in testing, though recently has led all states in percentage reduction of new cases. Testing and contact tracing are crucial if we are to open our schools this fall.
Danielle Allen of WAPO notes:
“There is still time to build testing and contact-tracing programs throughout the country to try to decelerate the spread of covid-19 and drive the disease to low enough levels that schools can open safely. Take note: Eight weeks from now, that window of opportunity will have closed.”
Opening will be critical as the results of remote learning could prove to be woefully inadequate, and be more destructive than a summer break, where many students lose between 20-30% of school year gains - especially in elementary school years.
In addition, schools nationwide will be dealing with students who have faced trauma (from financial crisis to domestic turmoil) and students who will be grieving the loss of loved ones because of the contagion. Summit will be no different. Minority and lower-income students will be less protected and face more significant hardship.
Students without consistent Internet access or adequate computers, and those with special education needs will suffer most. We have not yet heard from our District whether every student still has equal access to online learning, what is defined as equal, and how that progress is being monitored. Online access for those less privileged, as well as for those families that need to prioritize their bills is now more elusive as libraries and other public forums are closed, further magnifying existing inequalities.
The fact is that those students whose parents can guide them, (i.e., teach them as well), in this new academic environment will lose less ground. Those parents who are unable to work remotely, and have little time to monitor classroom progress, will see their children fall drastically behind. Finally, we still don't know what cuts and changes (athletics/NJSIAA, music, theatre, etc.) will necessarily have to be made for the fall semester, and how to best prepare for those inevitable changes.
The school budget, which is our taxpayer's largest component, must now include a flexible recovery plan, and make difficult choices in preparing for the "new normal.“ It is critical that parents and teachers immediately lead the way and travel down this new road together.