School District should focus on education, not politics
In February, Washoe County School District (WCSD) passed an “Equity Action Plan” that calls for an “equity champion” in each school and “brave spaces” for students. This plan also includes mandatory “equity training” courses for teachers. In doing so, WCSD has inserted itself into a political battlefield in the middle of a challenging environment heavily impacted by COVID.
Before we get into WCSD’s recent foray into politics, let us take a look at the current situation. School closures and its negative impact on student learning are becoming clear as we near the one-year mark of the COVID crisis. According to preliminary estimates by the Brookings Institution, reading skills gains will be at 70% that of a normal school year and Mathematics skills gains will be at half that of a normal school year. In Washoe county, nearly one in four high school students are failing two or more core subjects such as math and English, and 38 percent of students are failing at least one subject, according to the Reno Gazette Journal. Germany, England and a host of other countries have reopened schools with no detrimental health effects. Even CDC made its position clear: “As many schools have reopened for in-person instruction in some parts of the US as well as internationally, school-related cases of COVID-19 have been reported, but there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission”. There should be little doubt that opening the schools for in-person learning will benefit students across the board.
As for our current situation, WCSD is on a hybrid schedule with some students stuck with online learning and others on an every-other-day, in-person learning option. Contrast that with the Catholic schools in Washoe. Bishop Manogue went to full time, in-person learning in early-February with an online option for those who feel uncomfortable with in-person learning. Prior to that, the school was on a 5-day on, 5-day off schedule with all students having the option of attending school in-person one out of every two weeks. In the early days of COVID last year, while WCSD was struggling with the launch of online classes, Bishop Manogue seamlessly moved to online learning, thanks to their superior preparedness. In speaking with parents of Bishop Manogue students, I have received the feedback that their children did not miss a beat throughout the COVID crisis.
An analysis of outcomes produced by the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) would show that Bishop Manogue is by no means an aberration. The NCEA, which has a total enrollment of over 1.6 million students nationwide, has managed to keep classrooms open wherever the law permits. Catholic schools in the two of the nation’s largest school districts New York and Chicago have been operating safely while public schools are not. However, in Los Angeles, the third largest school district in the nation, Governor Newsom’s orders have kept the Catholic schools mostly shutdown.
School closures and lack of in-person learning have exacerbated what was already a pronounced learning gap. Educated parents can help their children with their classes while uneducated parents cannot. Wealthy parents can hire tutors or form “pandemic pods” while those in the lower end of the economic spectrum cannot. Instead of inserting itself into political controversy, shouldn’t WCSD be learning the lessons from Bishop Manogue and other Catholic schools in finding a way to provide full time, in-person education for students who want to attend school in-person, with an online option for students who are uncomfortable with in-person education?
One final point: Politics is inherently divisive. In this current polarized environment, politics is more divisive than ever. Too many historically great institutions have jumped into the political fray, taken sides and lost their standing, only to be viewed as partisan hacks. Wading into politics is a sure-fire way to lose credibility with half the population. WCSD would be better served by focusing on reopening the schools and providing quality education instead of inserting itself into politics.