“We, as parents, refuse to be plunged into chaos due to the incompetence and lack of planning.”
Keri Rodrigues — my friend, colleague, a partner in fighting for education justice, and founder of the organization I am proud to represent — captured precisely what millions of families were thinking as kids headed back to school.
Since the start of the pandemic, schools have asked parents for patience, for the benefit of the doubt, for trust, as they’ve scrambled to try to achieve two important goals at the same time: returning to the classroom safely and ensuring continuous learning without disruption. Parents have shown grace. We’ve been understanding, and in many cases tolerated utter incompetence.
In exchange? We’ve been met with silence.
How are schools going to keep children safe? What plans do they have for winter breaks? How will schools avoid learning disruptions and ensure students receive 180 days of in-person instructional time? How are schools using millions of dollars in federal funding to close a learning gap that disproportionately affects Blacks and Latinos?
These are questions parents are asking, and far too many schools can’t seem to answer. And so, we are right back where we were in the fall of 2020, wondering whether it’s because schools don’t have a plan, don’t care to be responsive to the parents’ concerns and if our schools will be safe.
Parents cannot and should not be expected to extend grace any longer. It’s the children who suffer most and are expected to play catch up as test scores continue to decline. Schools have had more than enough time to figure this out.
We’ve been warned by local and federal health officials that a fall COVID surge is coming. Yet far too many schools will once again be asleep at the wheel. One exception is Philadelphia, where education justice warrior Maritza Guridy tells me many parents welcomed the news that kids and staff will be masked up for the first 10 days of school.
But in talking to parents across the country in my role as director of Parent Voice and Outreach at the National Parents Union, the Philly Plan is a rarity.
It’s not just safety measures where parents are left in the dark. In the late spring, NPU released a poll of parents that found more than half have not heard anything about the federal funding being used in their child’s school to help address challenges related to the pandemic.
It gets worse. Not only are the schools not communicating with parents about how Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds are being spent, but more than 60 percent of parents say their children’s schools haven’t asked parents to give input or feedback on how the money should be used.
Every time schools closed and sent children home without a plan of action, the living rooms became classrooms, cafeterias and gymnasiums.
No more being polite. It’s time to fight. The grace we’ve shown, considering it is a pandemic, is gone. School leaders must have two goals this fall: keep kids safe in the classroom and keep kids learning. They’d have a much better shot at accomplishing both if they’d talk — and listen — to parents for once.