As COVID threatens to disrupt yet another academic year, leaders make matters worse by playing politics with students’ health and education

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Marc Morial

 

By MARC H. MORIAL

National Urban League

 

“We cannot return to the classroom and do things the same as they have always been done and expect to see a different outcome. Instead, we must use this critical moment in education to radically rethink how programs, policies, and opportunities are designed and fiercely commit to prioritizing the communities most impacted by the pandemic and distributing resources accordingly.” 

– NWEA Center for School and Student Progress.

Across the country, students are embarking on what is certain to be a third consecutive academic year that is compromised or disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While this is unfortunate for all students, it’s especially dire for students of color and low-income students, who experienced the steepest setbacks as a result of interrupted instruction.

To make matters worse, students are being used as pawns by politicians more concerned with signifying partisan loyalty than with the health and education of public-school children. Twenty states have prohibited proof-of-vaccination requirements. At least eight states – Florida, Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Iowa, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah – have imposed bans on school districts requiring masks. Florida and Arizona have gone so far as to threaten to withhold funding from districts that impose mask mandates.

As U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has pointed out, these policies represent discrimination against students who cannot attend school because of the risk to their health. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is preparing to launch investigations in states blocking mask mandates – a move the National Urban League emphatically supports.

It’s appropriate that Secretary Cardona recognizes pandemic-related educational disruption as a civil rights issue. As I testified earlier this year to the House Education and Labor Committee’s Subcommittee on Early Childhood Elementary and Secondary Education, Black children are more likely than their White counterparts to lack the internet access and the devices necessary to receive adequate remote instruction. This “homework gap” affects one in three Black, Latino and American Indian Alaska Native students.

The effects on inequality have been stark. Research released last month showed students in majority Black or Hispanic schools ended the school year six months behind where they normally would have been in math, compared with four months for White students.

 

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League. He can be reached through https://nul.org.

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