(The Center Square) – An unprecedented education crisis exists in California after nearly one year of public schools remaining closed, the Parent Union argues.
The organization launched in 2015 as a project of the California Policy Center, which offers parents an outlet to gather, organize and advocate on behalf of children to ensure all students have an outstanding public district or charter school option regardless of zip code.
Mari Barke, a Parent Union representative and Orange County Board of Education trustee, said parents “are angry and frustrated with their school district, superintendent and teachers’ union for their refusal to reopen the schools.”
The state’s largest teachers’ unions argue they won’t send their members into an “unsafe environment” even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that in-person learning is safe and students are better off in school. The unions are demanding that all teachers be vaccinated before California’s more than 10,000 public schools are reopened. Gov. Gavin Newsom argues their demand is unrealistic.
“If everybody has to be vaccinated, we might as well just tell people the truth: There will be no in-person instruction in the state of California,” Newsom said recently.
The unions and the governor remain at a stalemate, with parents, and their children, held hostage, advocates for reopening schools argue.
According to a recent CDC study, there is little evidence of spreading the virus at schools when proper precautions are taken, including wearing masks, practicing social distancing and implementing proper ventilation.
Even last July, members of the American Academy of Pediatrics urged local governments to reopen schools. Since then, nearly 6.2 million public school students haven’t returned to school in California.
By year’s end, Newsom proposed a plan to “incentivize” schools with $2 billion in extra funding depending on when they reopened. It was dead on arrival. When unions pushed back, Newsom told members of the Association of California School Administrators, “If we wait for the perfect, we might as well just pack it up.”
No new plan to reopen public schools has been proposed after union stalemates – now approaching one year since Newsom first closed schools on March 16, 2020.
After Newsom’s school closures, school districts scrambled to implement online learning opportunities. Initially, some public schools reduced instruction to once or twice a week with a two-hour check-in. Over time, many students just stopped logging on.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher and president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network, argued, “The teachers unions’ resistance to opening schools is killing kids literally,” pointing to a spike of mental health visits by youth to emergency rooms reported by the CDC.
Children with autism or suffering from severe anxiety, depression, trauma-related mental health conditions, and other serious emotional or behavioral difficulties, who depend on schools for access to vital therapies, are being deprived of care, he said.
Additionally, special needs students are suffering serious setbacks from the loss of in-person education, therapies and services because they don’t have access to Individual Education Programs (IEPs) designed to help them, the Parent Union said. IEPs create individualized programs of instruction, support and services designed to meet a student's unique needs. They offer speech therapy, assistance with dyslexia, autism, hearing or visual impairment, learning disabilities and more.
“Children who depend on in-person therapies have been denied in-person therapies since the start of the school year,” Jenny Tsang, a Parent Union member from Mount Diablo Unified School District, said. “Children’s IEP assessments, that must be done in-person, are done over Zoom. Some children have not even had one IEP assessment all year.
“Many special needs children have not met their IEP goals this year,” Tsang added. “The loss of routine, in-person IEP therapies, learning, social time, sports, and other extracurricular school activities are taking a toll on children's mental and physical health. The school district has failed our most vulnerable children.”
The effects of keeping schools closed is far worse than the likelihood of children contracting COVID-19, advocates for reopening schools argue, for a virus that has a 98 percent survival rate.
“Many teachers unions continue to ignore the science on Covid-19 transmission and refuse to reopen schools, while still collecting funds for the child, even if that student is no longer enrolled at the school,” the Parent Union noted.
Projected enrollment figures for 2020-2021 schools indicate a loss of 155,000 students as public schools largely remain closed for in-person learning. But schools will not lose money associated with enrollment loss. A bill passed by the Democrat-controlled legislature, SB 98, which Gov. Newsom signed into law in 2019, protects school district funding regardless of enrollment size.
“If a family pulled their child from their respective district school and enrolled them in a charter school, the money does not follow the child,” Parent Union’s Mari Barke said. “District schools are still receiving the same funding as last year, regardless of enrollment.”
"With many schools refusing to reopen classrooms, now is the time for parents across the state to explore their educational choice options," Barke added.