The Prince William and Manassas Family Alliance strives to be a voice upholding the rights of parents and families, the unborn and our civil liberties. Over the years, we have decried the horrors of abortion and the millions of sacrificed, voiceless babies in our nation.
Now amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we again speak for the voiceless: our children and youth who do not yet know how or why they should be speaking out for their futures.
Last March, the shutdown of Prince William County schools became necessary to control the spread of the coronavirus. Eight months later, enough data have been gathered to show what we can expect in the days ahead. The situation is more manageable than it seemed, and it’s possible to protect both students and teachers when schools reopen.
Many schools have started reopening, and lessons are being learned on how to do so with public safety in mind. In Prince William, about 1,200 students with special needs have been in school four days a week since September, and things appear to be running smoothly. There has been no increase in COVID cases due to transmission in the schools, and no schools shut down because of it.
Precautions in schools as prescribed by the Centers for Disease Control to protect students and teachers from contacting COVID or spreading the virus are working well. Superintendent Steve Walts and his team must be doing a whole lot of something right.
Results of a survey by the school board during the first quarter of the school year showed that nearly 60% of families prefer their students to remain virtual for various reasons. Yet, 40% of parents wanted their children back into the classroom as soon as possible. That re-entry has just begun, and for many it will not happen until February.
If schools have been able to pull off success for kids with special needs, why must it take so long to move 36,000 students (the 40%) back into classrooms by following the same methods? We are disappointed that the board agreed to re-entry taking until February for the entire 40% to be at their desks where they want and need to be now.
Before the COVID-19 shutdown, “the average Black or Hispanic student remains roughly two years behind the average white one, and low-income students continue to be underrepresented among top performers,” according to McKinsey & Co., a management consulting firm. It ascertained that where school closures and part-time schedules continue through the 2020-21 school year “…students who remain enrolled could lose three to four months of learning if they receive average remote instruction.”
A second study found that “remote learning is especially tough on students who also have to deal with challenges such as learning disabilities, economic hardship, or unstable home environments. Many of these students will struggle to thrive in a remote environment where they lack hands-on guidance, emotional support, and access to technology.”
At one point during the Oct. 21 school board meeting, members were upbraided for challenging the superintendent and his hesitancy to integrate students into the classroom setting.
Gainesville District school board member Jen Wall reminded her colleagues that the very reason the school board exists is to represent the desires of the community to the school division. That is why she questioned the delay proposed by Walts. She also said she believed Walts underestimated the ability of his team to bring students back to the classroom quickly.
We commend Chair Babur Lateef and board member Justin Wilk (Potomac District), who likewise advocated to prioritize the return to in-person learning.
For the sake of our children, and to prevent long-term academic, behavioral and social/emotional effects, the Family Alliance strongly supports the quick return of students to in-person instruction.
We do not want to see the learning deficit grow for kids who must be in the classroom in order to learn. Their futures are at stake, and educational disruption that lasts for months on end will widen their achievement gap and affect their college success and/or job readiness years down the road.
The school board and the county school system must listen to the needs of all of its students and strategize accordingly. No solution will be perfect, but to not try is to fail – fail our children and fail their futures. Open the schools.
Doris Dippel is a retired psychiatric nurse and neurofeedback training therapist. She lives in Manassas and is a member of the Prince William and Manassas Family Alliance.