The impact on education with COVID-19 has been extreme. Teachers have been valiantly attempting to adjust to online instruction, and students have had learning interrupted, disrupted, and, in some, cases ended. While the impact of the pandemic has been felt in every district and school, the most devastating effects are being felt—as they always are—by our most vulnerable children. Students living in poverty, most often our students of color, are the ones suffering the most negative consequences with education shifting online as they are the ones who too often are lacking technology, connectivity, and access to quality digital programs. While some may say that this is an issue that can be addressed, it ignores the bigger truth that across too many schools in the United States, students who come to school with less continue to get less there. Students of color and living in poverty are often being educated in dilapidated schools, lacking technology and educational materials that more affluent students enjoy. COVID-19 did not create educational inequities; it made them more obvious.
As our country is still addressing the pandemic’s impact, it is now also in turmoil with the visible death of George Floyd. While the immediate focus is on systemic racism in law enforcement, educators must continue to acknowledge issues of equity, institutional racism, and White privilege within classrooms, schools, and educational institutions. To ignore these issues means accepting students of color being underrepresented in honors classes and overrepresented in special education programs; it means continuing to witness black and brown students be the most likely to be suspended or drop out of school and the least likely to graduate and successfully enter college ready to take credit-bearing courses. Essentially it means giving up that we, as educators, cannot impact the idea that a student’s zip code has to be the biggest determiner of that student’s success.
Many school districts are acknowledging where we stand, but are proactively working to create better outcomes for all students. They are leading with equity agendas and embracing diversity and cultural competency. They are investing in authentic training to ensure an education that is multicultural and equitable and initiating more robust hiring practices to ensure the diversity of the workforce is more reflective of the students being served. These districts are not just promoting words but strategic plans and budgets to ensure students who come to school with less get more at schools.
Inequalities in public education are real. They have been brought to light with the impacts of COVID-19 but will still remain once the immediacy of the health crisis has been addressed. It must be called out. Reflect on a recent statement by the board and superintendent of New Britton, Connecticut:
“We will not be silent or complicit,” the statement reads. “We acknowledge that although we have one of the most diverse districts in the state, we have work to do in creating more inclusive environments – for our students, faculty and staff, and our community. As a district, we commit to doing our part to foster empathy, kindness, and equity. We will leverage our biggest asset, our district’s cultural and linguistic diversity, to build on the acceptance and appreciation that makes New Britton residents beam with pride.”