I am a student of the Los Angeles Unified School District, where administrators are responsible for making decisions that affect over 700,000 students on a daily basis. When the pandemic first hit, my district acted quickly and devoted its budget to a number of crisis programs, such as free lunch, subsidized computers, and expanded internet access. While not a perfect replacement, the necessities upon which many depended on from the district were met. These programs are too crucial to be economized, so when the bill came, we paid in full. $200 million may sound staggering, but it was a worthy cost to continue the education of thousands of students from LAUSD. As the new school year approached, it was apparent that the COVID emergency had not subsided. School districts would face an impossible choice: bear the health and economic cost of reopening or the learning cost of a remote year.
“As the new school year approached, it was apparent that the COVID emergency had not subsided. School districts would face an impossible choice: bear the health and economic cost of reopening or the learning cost of a remote year.”
I couldn’t believe it when I heard that the state was pushing for cutting a whopping $6.5 billion in cuts from California’s main K-12 funding formula. It is unbelievable to do so at a time when schools are struggling to survive and provide the basic necessities for this coming year. It’s too heavy of a burden to spend millions to retrofit schools with Purell dispensers when there isn’t enough money to replace the ventilators. There should never be a pick and choose situation when it comes to maintaining a safe environment, and these are costs that need to be paid upfront for schools to reopen. With increasing case numbers combined with the costs, the immediate shift to remote education should have been no surprise. With a majority of these schools severely lacking funding, one thing is clear. Remote education was not a choice, it was the only remaining option left.
“It’s too heavy of a burden to spend millions to retrofit schools with Purel dispensers when there isn’t enough money to replace the ventilators. There should never be a pick and choose situation when it comes to maintaining a safe environment…”
Remote learning was an experience that forced adaptation on both teachers and students alike. When the news first broke out that the district would close, I remember how teachers rushed to create a week’s worth of curriculum in a matter of days and students preparing themselves on how they would cover AP and honors curriculum through self-studying if needed. From my experience, there was no sense of structure and it often felt as though piles of homework were being placed from all classes at once. Making it to the end of the year took precedence over authentic learning. As teachers across the country receive mixed signals about whether their districts will reopen, they have less time to make substantive remote curriculums. I can’t imagine how another semester of this rushed planning could be educational in any sense of the word.
Beyond the challenges that this pandemic has brought to curriculums, students are facing unprecedented burdens to support their families. With one of the lowest homeownership rates in the nation, 64% of households in Los Angeles rent. Being a renter myself, I have seen many instances where during the pandemic, renting places a constant economic burden on a family. When parents are finding themselves furloughed or unemployed, the only way that rent can be met is with their children taking on high-risk jobs. So many students, those that I call my classmates and friends, are having to handle the burden of an entire family with the possibility of contracting a deadly virus and expected to continue with education as normal. The vacancy in classes hasn’t solely been due to access. Many were forced to choose between school and their family, and this is a choice that no student should have to make. An immediate concern to address before school starts, I believe that the remote year could offer the necessary grace to students as they balance their home and school commitments. Why rely on going back to normal when we’re living in far from normal times?
“So many students, those that I call my classmates and friends, are having to handle the burden
of an entire family with the possibility of contracting a deadly virus and expected to continue with education as normal.”
Regardless of how much we want to return to normalcy, I’ve seen numerous instances of how forcing the reopening process only increased the number of positive cases and made the time we spent in quarantine a waste. We are a country that has often prided ourselves on our prosperity, but we just don’t have the money to resume school as normal. The district has estimated a cost of $300 per student just to get tested on a weekly basis. This disproportionate cost, matched with the expenses to decontaminate the schools will be an incredible burden for the district. This is a disappointment to the most vulnerable in this city, who depended on school for childcare, food, and so many other services, and we have failed them. It’s time that we make up for our mistakes, and that begins with education itself. LAUSD students need an education, but one that contains value and acknowledges the reality of the situation they are now in.