Opinions

It’s time to reopen Anchorage schools

stock – school classroom

Concerned parents are asking that the Anchorage School District begins in-class school immediately. Not only are many schools across the U.S. and the world attending school in person, many of the districts throughout Alaska are now attending in person. A recent Yale study tracking young children in all 50 states found there to be no difference of infection rate between children who stayed at home and children who went to daily childcare. ASD’s remote learning negatively impacts children (and their families). For the following reasons, children in Anchorage are best served by attending school in person:

Equal education opportunity

Low-income, special-needs, minority and foster children are adversely impacted by remote learning. This is borne out in data; nationwide, about 30% of Native families and about 20% of Black and Latino families do not have access to the internet or have it only through a smartphone, compared with 7% of white families and 4% of Asian families. Where remote learning is often plagued with challenges in low-income families, higher-income families have additional options for furthering their children’s education.

Some families have opted to send their children to private schools, utilize private tutors in conjunction with Anchorage School District’s home schooling, hired private teachers, and even temporarily relocated using teleworking to enable grandparents or other family members to oversee their children’s education.

Not all families can do that. The education gap that already exists in Anchorage is further exacerbated; contrast students with remote schooling for a year (with many students not attending) to those who have been privately tutored. The obvious disparity dictates immediate action.

Emotional, social and physical Impacts

Dr. Danielle Dooley, medical director of Children’s National Hospital and a pediatrician said, “I am really seeing the negative impacts of these school closures on children,” including: mental health problems, hunger, obesity due to inactivity, missing routine medical care and the risk of child abuse — on top of the loss of education.

This is also being seen on a local level. A local nurse practitioner has seen children who have gained 40 pounds since COVID-19, children coming to the office with imagined worries just to see someone and have an emotional connection, children with severe mental health issues, and this nurse is very concerned about unreported abuse with children not in school. This is not just a problem for younger children but is especially prevalent among older students.

Reasonable precautionary measures

The American Academy of Pediatrics has repeatedly recommended opening schools, and many districts have listened and have been able to fulfill their core mission of teaching students in a safe manner. Some families may deem it best for their family to remain in a remote learning model – perfect, as it’s already available. ASD’s own survey has shown most families desire, desperately, to have their children back in school full-time.

It’s time for the ASD Board of Education, Assembly and our acting mayor to address that demand. Let’s get our students back in school and learning.

Jodi Taylor is a mother of five ASD students, an ASD graduate, and believer that education is a great equalizer.

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