Public Schools Collapsing into a Zoom Heap

Posted on by

Yves here. It seems oddly long ago when I happened to be near a TV and heard the governor announce the closure of the state’s schools, initially planned only for a few weeks. I recall wondering how working parents would cope, although the subsequent closures of non-essential businesses took care of a lot of the “working” part. Even so, most children aren’t disciplined enough to learn well remotely. Many parents don’t have the patience to master the material their kids are studying to step in as substitute teachers, so the results are even more likely to skew by class (more affluent parents feeling less pressured and thus better able to home school and even bring in tutors).

Belle Chesler, a visual arts teacher in Beaverton, Oregon now teaching from her home in Portland, Oregon. Originally published at TomDispatch

Do you hear that silence?

That’s the absence of footsteps echoing through our nation’s public school hallways. It’s the silence of teaching in a virtual space populated with students on mute who lack a physical presence. It’s the crushing silence of those who are now missing, who can’t attend the classroom that Zoom and Google built.

Maybe you heard the shouted pleas of teachers across the country last year as we walked out of our classrooms and into the streets, begging for affordable housing, health care, and access to equitable funding and resources for our students? Or maybe you heard the impassioned screams of frightened kids as they stormed into the streets and onto the news, demanding safety and an end to the threat of gun violence in our nation’s school buildings? Now, there’s nothing left to hear.

Today, all we’re left with is a deafening silence that muffles the sound of so much suffering. The unfolding public health, mental health, and economic crisis of Covid-19 has laid bare the fragility of what was. The institutions charged with caring for and guiding our most valuable assets — our children — were already gutted by half a century of chronic underfunding, misguided curricular policies that prioritized testing over real learning, and social policies that favored austerity over taking care of the most vulnerable members of our society. Now that so many teachers are sequestered and alone or locked away with family, our bonds of proximity broken, we’re forced to stare into that void, scrambling to find and care for our students across an abyss of silence. The system is broken. The empire has no clothes.

Not so many weeks ago, I used to be a teacher in a sprawling public high school outside Portland, Oregon. Before the virus arrived, I taught painting, drawing, ceramics, and filmmaking in three different studio classrooms. There, groups of students ranging across the economic, ethnic, religious, racial, and linguistic spectrum sat shoulder to shoulder, chatting and creating, day after day, year after year. Music played and we talked.

On some days, the classes were cacophonous and chaotic; on others, calm and productive. In those spaces, we did our best to connect, to forge thriving communities. What I now realize, though, is that the physical space we shared was the only thing truly tying us all together. Those classrooms were the duct tape securing the smashed bumper on the wreck of a car that was our public education system.

Now, it couldn’t be more obvious: no one’s going to solve the problems of our present and near future with the usual solutions. When desperation leaves us without imagination, clinging to old answers, scrambling to prop up systems that perpetuated and solidified inequity, it means missing the real opportunity of this otherwise grim moment. The “great pause” that is the Covid-19 shutdown has allowed us all to stare into the void, to see far more clearly just how schools have long shouldered the burdens of a society that functions largely for the privileged, leaving the rest of our nation’s children and families to gather the crumbs of whatever remains.

The Privilege of Homeschooling

In the first weeks after schools closed across the country, as parents struggled to “homeschool” their children, memes, rants, tweets, and strongly worded emails to school administrators popped up across the Internet. They expressed the frustrations of the moment. Those shared tales of the laughably insane trials and tribulations of parents trying to provide a reasonable facsimile of an education to kids sequestered at home, while still trying to work full time under the specter of a pandemic, amazed and depressed me.

Television producer and writer Shonda Rimes tweeted, “Been homeschooling a 6-year old and 8-year old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week.” Rimes’s tweet seemed to encapsulate the absurd reality of life at home with kids in the time of the coronavirus. As I read her tweet, I laughed out loud and in utter solidarity with her. A teacher no less, I, too, was trying and failing spectacularly to oversee the “education” of an increasingly frustrated and resistant third grader from home.

For those of us siloed in our privilege — healthy, with plenty of food stocked away in cupboards, quiet rooms with doors that shut, ample Internet access, and enough Wi-Fi-enabled devices to share among the members of our households — our quarantined home life is challenging, but not impossible. Our daily frustration continues to be a function of that privilege. For those without it, those who were already living in poverty or at its brink when the pandemic struck, homeschooling poses yet another crushing hurdle in life. How can you provide an education for your children when simply securing food, work, and shelter is your all-consuming reality?

Meanwhile, as exhausted parents screamed at school districts, teachers, and administrators on the Internet about providing virtual learning resources and online curricula to engage students during the school day, public school officials (at least in my world) were scrambling to deal with a far more immediate threat: kids going hungry. What this pandemic promptly revealed was that the most fundamental and urgent service schools provide to many children is simply feeding them.

The gravest and most immediate threat to our most vulnerable students was, and continues to be, hunger. If schools are closed, so is the critical infrastructure that helps keep our nation’s children fed. Aside from SNAP (the food stamp program), the National School Lunch Program is the largest anti-hunger initiative in the country. It feeds 29.7 million children on school days, with an additional 14.7 million children fed thanks to the School Breakfast Program and more than 6.1 million via the Child and Adult Care Food Program. And those numbers don’t even include the informal system of food distribution that teachers often provide students in their classrooms. On average, teachers spend upwards of 300 of their own dollars yearly providing food to students.

So, no wonder that, as soon as Covid-19 closed the doors of our schools, administrators, teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and volunteers across the country mobilized on a large — and downright heroic — scale to attempt to keep those students fed. In the Beaverton school district where I teach, a “Grab and Go” curbside meal distribution program was quickly set up, making daily meals accessible to every student in the district. As economic conditions head for Great Depression-level misery, think of these as 2020 versions of the infamous breadlines of that era, only in this case they’re for children (and sometimes their families).

The responsibility for feeding students was not the only immediate concern. The adults in our school typically also serve as first responders for those students. We monitor their moods and listen to their stories. We notice when kids are struggling emotionally and, as mandatory reporters, step in when we suspect a child is living in a perilous or unsafe situation.

In the first weeks after we left our classrooms, calls to Oregon’s child abuse hotline dropped by more than half. Other states across the nation reported similar declines. The drop in calls has frightening implications. Coupled with increasing economic insecurity and social isolation, rising rates of child abuse are undoubtedly imminent. When teachers, counselors, and school social workers are no longer able to observe and communicate openly with students, signs of neglect or abuse are much more likely to go undetected and unreported.

The closure of our buildings also poses a huge barrier to the normal support of students struggling with mental-health issues. Our children are already suffering from alarming rates of depression and anxiety. Isolating them from their friends, peers, mentors, caregivers, and teachers will only compound their mental-health challenges.

Trying to Bridge the Digital Divide

Add the surreal nature of an invisible foe to a lack of clear directives from both the federal and state government and you have a formula for problems. When we were finally instructed to leave our school, it was without advanced warning. In my classrooms, half-finished clay projects littered the countertops, while palettes loaded with acrylic paint and incomplete canvases were left to desiccate and gather dust on the shelves.

Students departed without cleaning out their lockers or often even gathering their schoolwork and books, not to speak of the supplies they’ll need to complete that work at home. And even though our students do have access to technology — three years ago, our district adopted a policy of providing a Chromebook to each student — it soon became apparent that there were huge obstacles to overcome in transforming our brick-and-mortar classrooms into virtual spaces. Many students had, for instance, broken or lost their Chromebooks. Some had missing chargers. And even many of those who had their Chromebooks with them at home had limited or no access to Wi-Fi connectivity.

Trying to reach all my students across that digital divide became the central focus of my waking hours. I made calls; I texted; I emailed; I posted announcements in my digital classroom stating that we’d be reconvening online. Still, none of these efforts mattered for the students stuck at home without Wi-Fi or lacking the necessary devices.

Before our nation’s schools closed, the Federal Communications Commission estimated that around 21 million people in America did not have broadband Internet access. According to data collected by Microsoft, however, the number who can’t access the Internet at broadband speeds is actually closer to 163 million. While districts across the country scrambled to provide mobile hotspots and working devices to students, teachers like me began the demoralizing and herculean task of scrapping years of thoughtfully crafted curriculums in order to provide an entirely new online learning experience. We stepped into our virtual classrooms with the knowledge that, no matter how many shiny new digital resources we have at our disposal, there’s nothing we can do to provide equitable access to education remotely.

And even if we were to solve such problems, we couldn’t offer the space or the support students need to learn. Kids living in cramped situations will struggle just to find a quiet place to attend our online classes. Those whose working parents suddenly need childcare for younger siblings have sometimes found themselves taking on the roll of primary caregivers.

Some students whose families were in ever more perilous economic situations increased their work hours and scrapped the idea of attending school altogether. And many of our English-as-a-second-language, or ESL, students, as well as the 14% of students nationally who require additional “learning supports,” are now in trouble. They’ve been left to navigate a complex web of digital platforms and new learning approaches without the individualized attention or frequent checks for understanding that they rely on from their teachers.

What virtual learning can never stand in for is the moment when a student leans over and asks me or a peer for help. That simple act of vulnerability that builds a bridge to another human being may be the most important moment in any classroom and now it’s gone. In Covid-19 America, when school kids need help most, they can’t simply lean over and ask for it.

The Time to Pivot

Today, I teach from my kitchen, my dining room, or the floor of my bedroom. I stare across the digital abyss into the pixelated faces of just a handful of students. It’s impossible to read their emotions or body language. Even when I unmute them, most choose not to speak.

Each day, fewer of them show up to class. Sometimes, students turn off their videos, and I speak only to a sea of black rectangles, the white text of the student’s name the sole indicator of his or her presence in my new classroom. Not surprisingly, our sessions together are stilted and awkward. I try to make jokes and connect, but it’s impossible to replicate online the intimacy of a face-to-face interaction. The magic of what was, of 25 to 40 students working cohesively in community, is lost.

And in the darkest hours of the early morning, when I wake with a start, crushing anxiety pushing on my chest, I think about all the third graders unable to participate in my daughter’s distance-learning classroom. I wonder about the students I’ve still been unable to reach — the ones who haven’t responded to my emails or completed any assignments, and whose faces I never see online. Where are they? How are they? I have no way of knowing.

Our world no longer looks the same. This pause, which has caused, and will continue to cause, so much suffering may also be a gift, offering a shift in perspective and a chance to pivot. Perhaps it’s a rare opportunity to acknowledge that our nation’s public schools should not be left so alone to provide food, mental health care, and digital connectivity for our nation’s children. That should be, in a fashion almost unimaginable in America today, the role of the larger society.

Now is not the time to be silent but to raise our voices, using any privilege we may have, be it in time, money, or simply access, to demand major changes both in how all of us think about our American world and in the systems that perpetuate such inhumane and unconscionable disparities for so many.

There is no way to continue putting yet more duct tape on that smashed bumper of a public education system that was already such a wreck before the coronavirus arrived on these shores. Nor is this the time to retreat into our silos, hoarding privilege along with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, too cowardly to demand more for all the children in this country. It’s time instead to reach out across the six feet of social-distancing space that now divides us all and demand more for those who aren’t able to demand it for themselves.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. divadab

    Sweden never closed their elementary schools and in Quebec they just reopened K-6 last week as part of the “re-opening”. (Middle and High school resumes in September). Makes sense because 12 and unders can’t stay at home alone while 13 and overs can, and if people are to go back to work they can’t have kids at home.

    Some of the shutdown was clearly an over-reaction – in Quebec, foresters were forbidden to work for example – where’s the risk for people who spend most of their time alone in the woods? But the spring turkey hunt went ahead as planned – tho strangely in Washington State, in another strange over-reaction, hunting was and remains shut down. It’s a patchwork and clearly not always consistent or rational. I’m betting over time consistency and rationality will return, but considering cannabis has been illegal nationally for over 80 years I’m not betting much.

    1. Chris

      By what possible metric could you evaluate the risks to children and adult staff in a school environment and consider the lockdown an over reaction?

      1. coboarts

        Because our society collectively gave up on its kids and families by completely closing the schools instead of developing safer options like staggered schedules throughout the day: allowing parents some time off, giving teachers a chance to give and receive assignments, maintaining some sense of connectedness and normalcy to children’s worlds, providing regular access to food and giving health officials the chance to check in with “Johnny” and inquire about the welfare of the family. Was there just no ability to think in our managerial, elite class? Was there no concern, really? Or are the evil Archons behind this all? Inquiring minds want to know.

        1. anon in so cal

          That’s being done in many districts, including LA.

          “$78 million for food aid.
          $50 million for expanded summer school.
          $31 million for teacher training to lead online instruction.
          $23 million to connect students from low-income households to the Internet.
          $9 million for safety equipment and supplies, mostly in connection to the ongoing “grab-and-go” food program at more than 60 campuses.

          The Los Angeles Unified School District faces an estimated $200 million in emergency coronavirus costs after providing computers for all students and food for families during the outbreak, Superintendent Austin Beutner said in an interview published Monday.

          It’s not clear from where additional funding might come for the mounting expenses, Beutner told the Los Angeles Times.”

        2. K teh

          Threat or opportunity…


          Managerial elite. The stories one could tell.

          We’re moving San Diego out to San Francisco and pearl…the ‘elite’ kids …my class was 9 out of 462…guy asks us if we would like to make $100k, 40 years ago, to replace all military manufacturing jobs with computers. The other 8 are drooling…guy knew right off I would be the hardest to convince, so he gets all the others with my Nazi professors’ help….ah, that would be no…respectfully sir, ah no.

          They were white as a ghost…

          Ah, but I digress. Just because we live in Caly doesn’t necessarily mean we are stupid.

          ******g Atlantic Fleet Personnel.

      2. anon in so cal

        ^ This

        “Two new studies offer compelling evidence that children can transmit the virus. Neither proved it, but the evidence was strong enough to suggest that schools should be kept closed for now, many epidemiologists who were not involved in the research said.

        …In some of those countries, the rate of community transmission is low enough to take the risk. But in others, including the United States, reopening schools may nudge the epidemic’s reproduction number — the number of new infections estimated to stem from a single case, commonly referred to as R0 — to dangerous levels, epidemiologists warned after reviewing the results from the new studies….children who test positive harbor just as much virus as adults do — sometimes more — and so, presumably, are just as infectious.”

        Public schools in many areas are in disastrous shape. In many districts, the schools and the school personnel are providing social services, etc. The problems are so multi-faceted and interconnected, it’s hard to know where to begin. Wages, culture, political-economy, etc….

        1. Librarian Guy

          As a public (High School) level teacher myself, I think it is clear students can spread Covid without being symptomatic. Since I’m in California, I think I am extremely fortunate that Gov. Newsom called the statewide “Shelter in Place” when he did. Monday, March 16, was physically my last day at work (apart from stopping in to clean up and empty my classroom on 2 subsequent days), and we didn’t see students that Monday or the previous Friday (which had been one of our too-frequent “Staff Development” days without students present, just a lucky coincidence).

          Having recently turned 60, though having no underlying health/autoimmune dangers, I’m gratified not to play Russian Roulette with my health and safety. Obviously, there are many, many unanswered hypotheticals about how and when we will resume direct (human) interaction. At my school, student Zoom/Google Classroom access #s vary widely, as reported by others here. Also, obviously a great deal less of real substance is being taught. Our district (like many others) informed us early on that no “new content” was going to be remotely taught, too difficult for students to assimilate evidently . . . One can imagine how this impacts most curricular areas– science is only review, I’d assume math as well, foreign language can’t introduce new units, concepts . . . Social Science can teach some things via videos online, if the basic content has already been taught in English/Literature, some new material can be covered with concepts already introduced, thematically. (The simplistic– but not entirely invailid– idea that there’s only 7 original scripts/stories in most dramatic fiction applies here, perhaps.)

          We’ll see how/when things will resume. I think many changes in past practice will need to be made to resume actual meat space instruction, and obviously I hope that it happens. Certainly on NC people will be aware that there are multiple models for what the Neoliberal Order will do going forward. I don’t think California will follow the worst-case scenario of gutting public education and replacing it with Charters and hyper-authoritarian privatization schemes, classic Shock Doctrine procedures, but obviously there are powerful forces at work who want to further reduce and immiserate the public sector, and education (as many failures as it currently has, it still limps along providing some opportunity for the non-privileged) is going to be a very tempting target.

          I have yet to see a real revival of any communitarian ethos among the populace while we are currently about 2 months into this Pandemic. Obviously, the USA as a country has a long anti-intellectual tradition, and though lots of lip service is paid to education as the means for economic mobility (lol, as if Neoliberalism hasn’t strangled US economic mobility for the past 5 decades) that will have to develop. I guess I have the usual level of (quite possibly delusional) emotional optimism needed for daily survival to tacitly hope that that occurs. Yet the Establishment crushing of the Sanders campaign’s mild proposals for reform do not inspire my logical side to see a lot of hope.

          As we all know, for now it remains “interesting” times, and likely there may be some societies that rebuild social solidarity and “capital” to the extent of creating better times in the future. The US would not seem likely to be one of the better candidates for such an outcome, given how deeply neoliberal greed and despair have been accepted by majorities of the populace. Yet the more desperate it gets, the more likely it will be that with greater breakdown, some change will have to be accepted.

          1. anon in so cal

            Agree that California’s Gov Newsom has been responding well to Covid19, although he did abandon the original plan of maintaining Safer At Home through May 15. May 15 was the day deaths in CA were projected to decrease to zero per day. The new projection is zero deaths on Aug 3, with the total CA death toll now projected to be double, at 6086.


            It’s hard to know where to begin to address the myriad problems afflicting public education and the larger society and culture.

            My California campus officially suspended in-person classroom instruction starting Thursday March 12.

    2. judy2shoes

      divadab wrote: ” tho strangely in Washington State, in another strange over-reaction, hunting was and remains shut down.”

      Not true.

      ““Outdoor recreation is one of the best things we can do to promote physical, mental and emotional well-being for Washingtonians during a time of great stress and isolation,” Inslee said in his news conference at the State Capitol. “And springtime in our state is Washington at its best and people want to be out enjoying outdoor activities in a safe and responsible way.””

      “That means starting May 5, recreational anglers can head to the rivers and lakes in search of sockeye salmon, walleye and trout, hunters can go in search of turkey and spring bear and golfers can again hit the greens to sink a putt.”

      1. Jeff N

        my parents go on a (driving) vacation to northern WI (near where Yves spent some time growing up) twice a year, mostly for dad’s fishing. I was planning to go with them, but 1) I can’t find pet care for my cat, the rental cabin does not allow pets; and 2) according to the rules of social distancing I should not be in the same house with my parents.

    3. fajensen

      Sweden is generally following the track of the UK and the US (Germany and Denmark are on top of each other),in my opinion because Sweden is as neoliberal as the UK and US are, only with better branding.

      Now, Given that black people are seen to be about 4 times as likely to get seriously ill with Covid-19 and the USA happens to have a lot more black people than Sweden has, then opening schools ‘like Sweden’ will very likely boost the death rates in the USA!

  2. Rod

    Nor is this the time to retreat into our silos, hoarding privilege along with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, too cowardly to demand more for all

    It’s a mess, and courage along with some other values must be brought to bear.

    This is our future at stake here–what Lesson will witnessing the ‘Great Fail” of adults around them leave?

    Public Education is reeling: the author identifies the two most important functions public schools serve as:
    Providers of Food and Mental/Social Support.
    Implicit, though not stressed, is that Schools also Educate.

    Public Schools=Family Nutritional Support and Family Social/Mental Health Support and also educating that population with skills needed for the 21st century. On Line–vicariously.

    I have yet to hear any St. Sup’t. of Public Education call this an Emergency Crises and call for the mobilization of all State Universities Education Departments as well as an appeal to all Retired Educators to mobilize into supporting systems.

    To be successful in classroom instruction requires a lot of Agility in manipulating Content/Delivery/Evaluation and it is confounding to see that Agility being Moribund like this.

  3. NotTimothyGeithner

    My sister is a public school teacher, and she said one ap calculus teacher had 100% attendance. The next high school teacher was at 30%.

    I hear from a reliable source that the local schools at least for elementary kids are moving towards morning and afternoon shifts. I can’t imagine how this will work. I suppose if they don’t demand much in the way of work, they can swing it. Theyou don’t have enough teachers and staff to handle this, and my source also said none of the aides and non-teaching staff have a clue if they will be back with cuts.

  4. Big River Bandido

    I’m a part-time adjunct professor at a private college. Most of my students do not face such dire survival issues on a daily basis, at least not while they are at school, where their housing and meals are (for most of them) covered. The environment itself provides some nurturing, and makes it possible for faculty and staff to observe and notice students who are in distress. Of course, the institution has a *budget* for these things and has long recognized that student well-being is critical for academic success. I am constantly monitoring my students in class for signs of any such barriers in their learning. So all of the social/civic responsibilities public school teachers face — we face them in college also, but they take different form and shape and require different interventions. On top of all this, my students are able (in theory) to sit still, to focus, to “act like adults” if they choose. (They don’t always choose, but I prefer a “loose” environment in my classes anyway, as I think this actually encourages learning.)

    If these conditions were missing, my life right now would be as Chesler has described. Her description of what it’s like to try and “teach” in this “venue” already applies. All the nuance — reading the students’ faces, seeing what they understand and what they don’t, realizing “I have to try *this* approach with *that* student” — the *art* of teaching — all this is lost in Zoom Hell. (Better than Zoom heap, IMO.) This is to say nothing of all the issues having to deal with “connectivity”. Many of my students went from top-tier to disappeared, all because they could not access Zoom or our school’s online platform. I feel fortunate that I at least had 7 weeks of classes to get to know my students this semester before we all went online.

    All this doesn’t even address a bigger issue — some students went back mid-semester to broken homes or homes without broadband access, to share a cramped apartment with… people who are ill with COVID-19.

    I assigned two grades this semester: students whose work represents the highest standard of quality got an A, as always. Everyone else — regardless of the barriers they faced — learned a lot of hard lessons this term, most of which were unexpected. Given how they coped, they’re getting an A-.

  5. jef

    What does Trump’s new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos focus on? Campus Sexual Assault Regulation. Even though there currently zero students on campus. This is an important issue for sure but the emergency of transitioning the nation over to online schooling overnight is massive and critical. An entire generation of children are feeling screwed, ignored, and cheated. As if their future wasn’t unsure enough.

    Lets face it though this is all by design and will greatly speed up the privatization and thus continued crapification of education.

    “DeVos’s Campus Sexual Assault Regulations Are an “Abomination”

  6. Kris Alman

    I am sure the author of this piece would agree that Covid is the turnkey for privatized education, outsourcing the classroom to the clouds. (For more, read Wikipedia “flipped classroom.” )

    Like the author, I live in the Beaverton School District. Nike is headquartered in unincorporated Washington County “near Beaverton.” Nike owns the School District (Nike donated the BSD’s current logo!), the City of Beaverton, Washington County and the State.

    Nike’s Phil Knight dubbed Denny Doyle as Beaverton’s Mayor in 2008 after Nike successfully raided the City’s computers to–shock!!!–disclose that then-Mayor Rob Drake had considered annexing the land into the City. This was before the the Oregon legislature passed legislation barring Beaverton from “forcibly” annexing the land that Nike and Columbia Sportswear occupy in Washington County for 35 years. In spite of this, the City of Beaverton, with the approval of Washington County Commissioners, extended its enterprise zone in 2013 to the bermed off Nike fortress. A tax shelter within a tax shelter. (And that’s not including their off-shore shelters!)

    Nike’s had a stronghold on education through Julia Brim-Edwards. As Nike’s senior director of government and public affairs, she is a D power player, currently on Portland School District’s Board. She was on the now-defunct Oregon Education Investment Board, which infamously hired Rudy Crew (a serial corporate education reformer throughout the country) to be our State’s Chief Education Officer in 2012. He was out in 2013–a resignation steeped in controversy (but status quo for his CV).

    Brim-Edwards established the Nike School Innovation Fund. Of course, “charity” is much cheaper than paying taxes. As far back as 2012, the Nike School Innovation Fund advocated for “flipped classrooms” at their website. Though scrubbed of this content now, the website boasted stories like “Confession of a cheating teacher” and “Is the classroom obsolete?”

    The latter article is still at Education Week. Here’s an excerpt:

    The classroom is a relic, left over from the Industrial Revolution, which required a large workforce with very basic skills. Classroom-based education lags far behind when measured against its ability to deliver the creative and agile workforce that the 21st century demands. This is already evidenced by our nation’s shortage of high-tech and other skilled workers—a trend that is projected to grow in coming years.

    As the primary place for student learning, the classroom does not withstand the scrutiny of scientific research. Each student “constructs” knowledge based on his or her own past experiences. Because of this, the research demands a personalized education model to maximize individual student achievement. Classrooms, on the other hand, are based on the erroneous assumption that efficient delivery of content is the same as effective learning.

    Silicon Valley neo-illiberal Gods are praising Covid for creative destruction of public schools. Let us praise these corporate persons!

  7. Frustrated Psych

    Thank you for publishing this article. I am a school psychologist working in a public, low SES, rural K-8 district. I think the only consideration missing from this article is how students in special education and those with special needs, such as autism, are impacted by this pandemic. The stress that these families are under is unreal, schooling children with significant academic and behavioral needs while juggling everything else that it takes to keep their family afloat. Special education teachers and support staff like me don’t have enough hours in the day to help these kids and give them the level of support they need. I worry about the kids I can’t contact, the families who don’t have transportation to take advantage of our meal program (we are rural). And the thing that has me most frustrated is the lack of options to support my preschool families with students that have significant disabilities. These children are in a critical developmental window…months of no effective services (cause let’s face it…what 3 year old is going to sit still for 40 minutes to participate in a Zoom call with their speech therapist) is going to set these children back, potentially for the rest of their lives.

    And now I am anticipating the budget cuts we will have to face next year…potentially 40% of our budget gone. We were already stretched so thin that our school building budget for maintenance and repairs has been completely put on hold since the 2008 financial crisis (yeah, that long). The roof on one of our school buildings is so shot, we get leaks inside the classrooms every time it rains. How can we expected to educate the next generation with conditions like this? And it’s only going to get worse next year. Our district is already talking about cutting staff. It was already bad…but now we are going to have a serious crisis facing public education.

    1. Displaced Platitudes

      I was lucky enough to retire from a public school system job. A thing I’ve not seen mentioned in any discussion of the effects of bringing kids back to the classrooms; how they will arrive there?

      A large number of districts, especially rural ones, require the use of mostly retired folks to operates the buses. The jobs are part-time with little, if any, benefits. Unless we are deeply into a severe depression, those folks will not show up to work, and there is already a severe shortage of bus drivers currently.

      The nutrition services workers are in similar conditions. The custodians are in only slightly better straits.

      Picture what will happen if there is an outbreak of COVID in this sort of setting. Administration can threaten until they lose their vocal cords, governors and the president can deem them essential workers and threaten their jobs, but short of gunpoint and possibly not then, these folks are not returning to work.

      It is nearly impossible, even with staggered shifts, to keep teachers and support workers even moderately safe. We are horrifically short of PPE now, but if I were a custodian or cook who had to constantly be in contact with children who don’t understand social distancing, nor understand that everything they touch could transmit the virus to others; I would require the full regimen of PPE to perform my duties.

      I haven’t mentioned the impossibility of trying to ventilate older buildings adequately, especially smaller classrooms that were often storage closets several years ago.

      All of these issues are in addition to kids that have shown serious side effects of having the virus. I really don’t see how anything short of a vaccine makes schools safe again.

Comments are closed.