As a new school year begins amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Missourians are still struggling to understand and adapt to how our children will be educated. Without adequate federal or state guidelines, local districts have been left to their own best efforts.
These districts have considered and implemented different approaches: in-person with additional safety precautions, virtual or remote instruction, and hybrid models of the two. Parents have devised their own plans, including traditional homeschooling and learning pods. Additionally, many parents feel the need to plan for closures in the winter and spring.
Regardless of how schools have reopened, traditional classroom learning is not an option. This will cause serious problems for our most disadvantaged and vulnerable children — unless we act swiftly on their behalf.
Students who have been unable to check-in or make contact with educators since schools closed last spring are particularly vulnerable. These students may have older caregivers who are at increased risk from the disease or may be responsible for providing care to younger siblings while their parents work. They may lack the technological means to accommodate online learning techniques. No matter how districts choose to hold classes, these students will likely fall further behind — and the number of missing students will likely grow.
To compound the problem, many children and their families rely on the infrastructure and resources that full-time classroom schooling provides. Students from low-income households have disproportionately felt the impact of the pandemic — and this impact is not only the loss of learning. From childcare to free lunches to after-school programs, some students depend on school for more than just education. For some students, school is the only place they truly feel safe.
These students need additional support as they strive to balance academic needs with the health and safety concerns, and the economic realities, of their families. Without this support, equity gaps will continue to widen. Families will be forced to make an impossible decision between immediate needs and the future academic success of their children.
We cannot allow these children to fall behind, to be forgotten. Instead, we must ask ourselves tough questions as we make decisions about what K-12 education will look like during the remainder of the pandemic. And we must come up with answers that work for all of Missouri’s children.
This issue is one that impacts all Missourians. We need the governor to lead for all Missourians and ensure that all students, especially our most vulnerable children, receive the education they deserve.
State Rep. Steven Roberts is a Democrat who represents HD 77 in St. Louis. He is also a candidate for state Senate in SD 5.