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Lost education for America's kids is a bigger 'health crisis' than COVID-19

Dean Mazzarella, the mayor of Leominster, Mass. "has declared a public health emergency in an effort to get children back into the classroom for in-person learning." And he's not wrong.
Nicole Russell
Nicole Russell Texas, US

This article was published more than 1 year ago, information might not be up to date.

A Massachusetts mayor has joined the ranks of those who increasingly believe remote learning is no longer an effective way to handle public education in this country. Dean Mazzarella, the mayor of Leominster, Mass. "has declared a public health emergency in an effort to get children back into the classroom for in-person learning." And he's not wrong.

On Monday night, the Mayor held an emergency meeting to discuss ongoing concerns with remote learning with the local school committee, according to a local news source.

"I call this meeting because I am concerned about the future of those students who are not learning remotely. I am concerned about those students with IEPs [individualized education plans] and special needs. I am concerned about those students who are left home during the day because their parents have to choose between going to work and paying the rent," Mazzarella said to the committee.

Parents had been voicing their concerns with the adverse way remote learning was affecting their kids and Mazzarella believed school officials were ignoring them. "Remote learning is causing health issues involving brain development and overstimulation," one parent said during the meeting. "My kids are having full-on meltdowns every day."

Mazzarella argued schools should open up for in-person learning since COVID cases are in the "green" zone— per Massachusetts' way of assessing the risk for transmission. Mazzarella used the call for a "crisis" assessment to try to get people to realize that the virus isn't even the biggest problem in their community—disenfranchising kids of an education is.

Parents in Massachusetts aren't the only ones frustrated with remote learning. While parents in suburbs may be frustrated with how to balance work with their child's education needs, especially children with learning disabilities, it's just as difficult, if not more so, for children and parents in urban neighborhoods.

In a New Yorker and ProPublica collaboration, "The Students Left Behind By Remote Learning," it's clear that this model is especially tough on kids in lower income neighborhoods, whose family situations are unstable—perhaps a parent is suffering with addition, few resources, or moves frequently. Even the basic materials needed to facilitate remote learning—a computer, Internet, and adequate food and rest—seem difficult to come by for these families moving education to the bottom of the list of priorities.

This anecdote, about a bright 12 year-old student named Shemar, is particularly demonstrative of the way remote learning has affected many urban children and their families.

"It soon became clear that, even with the computer, this form of schooling wasn't going to work for Shemar. He had a wireless connection at his grandmother's house, but he spent some of his days at a row house, a mile to the southwest, that his mother had moved into, in one of her repeated efforts to establish a home for them.

"A few weeks earlier, a 21-year-old man had been killed a block away. There was no internet, and when his mother called Comcast to ask about the free Wi-Fi it was offering to the families of Baltimore schoolchildren, she was told that a previous tenant had applied, so she couldn't do so herself. It was a familiar situation for her: so often, when she made an effort on her son's behalf, it foundered quickly in a bureaucratic dead end."

As I wrote last week, this new study—and similar ones like it—have shown not only that the risks of children being infected with COVID are slim, but that the effects of lockdowns are worse than we thought. Remote learning is one of those effects. When officials decided to lock down schools, it was a precautionary measure that made sense in the middle of a brand new pandemic. Now that we know better, and studies have shown we need to change course, it’s time we do just that. Parents are exasperated, children are falling behind, and schools must be opened nationwide. Our kids' lives, and our nation's future, depend on it.

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