MARY ANN WOLF: Safely starting the 2020-21 school year

Posted July 12, 2020 10:37 p.m. EDT
Updated July 12, 2020 10:42 p.m. EDT

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is Mary Ann Wolf's "Final Word" from the July 11, 2020 broadcast of Education Matters -"Safely Starting the 2020-21 School Year." Wolf is president and exec;uive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina.

No school district, educator, or parent wants to be in the position of having to debate whether or how we can return to school this year. We wish that we could start school with in-person full classes, and we watch as districts and families struggle to decide what is right for their children.

To safely reopen this fall, addressing the following three challenges will be paramount:

Our top priority must be ensuring the safety of our students, teachers, staff, and families. If school buildings are open this fall, plans must be made for scenarios both during and outside of school that keep students AND staff as safe as possible. Many districts are ensuring that families will have access to remote learning as an option even when a hybrid or in-person plan is implemented.  These virtual learning options will enable families to stay engaged with their school system and school communities.

Another priority must be ensuring Equity as we work to provide robust, meaningful learning opportunities for all students. During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, we learned that unequal broadband access, the varied ability of parents to work remotely, funding disparities across districts, and many more inequities were exacerbated by our efforts to mitigate the spread of this virus. Students will need to be able to rely on rigorous remote learning options that districts across the state are working hard to develop, in the event we must stay home.

Finally, with so many things up in the air, districts must be able to count on Resources and funding to support changes required by fall learning plans. Unpredictable changes in funding will make it harder for our school leaders to deliver safe and equitable educational offerings in the face of COVID-19. We believe our state leaders must take specific actions so that district leaders will know that they will have the budgets they need throughout the year, with at least the amount they planned to have.

As I engage in discussions with educators, families, and communities, it is clear that we all struggle with any of the options that do not fit our definition of normal and may not be what we want for our kids or our educators and staff for the fall. However, as we move forward - with a focus on safety for students and staff; equity for robust, meaningful learning opportunities; and the need for adequate resources and a solid budget - I also see the creativity and care and concern for our students at every turn.

Our public schools are the hub of our communities; and, even in the midst of a global pandemic, where nothing seems normal, they will be the constant source of connection, whole child support, and learning for our kids.

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