New York, NY — As the nation continues to navigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, students, parents and educators are being haphazardly ushered into a “new” reality for public education. As our schools have closed and transitioned to ‘distance learning,’ ‘virtual classrooms’ and the like, this “new” reality is well stocked with decades-old inequities in education access, quality and outcomes. These emerging circumstances are only amplifying pre-coronavirus realities, as we knew they would. None of the institutional power has shifted. Black, Brown, Indigenous, working-class and rural communities were already grappling with under-resourced schools, limited access to technology, over-policing, food deserts and more. No one adjusted to meet their concerns or their needs, and now, as federal and state governments work to organize solutions, under-resourced communities nationwide are pulling off monumental feats to meet the granular needs of their own communities. This shouldn’t have to be so.
The Dignity in Schools Campaign, as a national coalition of over 100 organizations, envisions a public school system situated in a social and political reality that values students, parents and communities as decision-makers with a fundamental human right to shape their lives. In our vision, schools value the humanity and dignity of all people, and hold that belief as essential for students to succeed. We see fulfilling this vision as connected to broader movements for social justice and human rights in the United States. As realities change, we must adjust and tailor our work to meet the needs of the people. As students, parents, teachers and education advocates, we are taking action to address community needs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as we continue to organize for fundamental change in our education system and society.
Organizing our Communities in Response to COVID-19
We call on states and school districts nationwide to:
- Develop a comprehensive plan for distance learning that includes training and assistance for teachers, parents and students as they transition to virtual classrooms and online learning, including considering a “recalibration period.”
- Provide free breakfast and lunches (and when possible dinner) available for easy pickup in one bundled package that also includes critical supplies (masks, hand soap and/or sanitizer) as a part of that distribution.
- Give all students the technology needed for remote learning throughout the duration of this crisis, (including needed computer equipment, software, internet access and any other requirements)
- Prohibit surveillance, tracking or criminalization through the use of technologies and online platforms by school districts directly or third party partners. Ensure that all distributed technology meets all hardware and software requirements necessary to handle digital learning platforms (such as google classrooms, zoom, etc), with a commitment to replace any technology that fails to meet these requirements.
- Students that receive digital technology to facilitate online and distance learning should be able to keep it, forever.
- Guarantee that students who don’t have internet access at home do not have to pay to access their schoolwork, such as by creating a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) to provide free internet access, at a minimum of 50 mbp/s speed for all households at no-cost.
- Ensure that students’ and parents’ information is protected when using educational technology and online learning platforms, that districts are transparent with, and accountable to students, parents and communities regarding how information will be gathered and shared.
- Districts should post as guidance for families an accessible statement and description on data usage and sharing through district agreements and partnerships for online learning in addition to the use of edtech.
- Incorporate social and emotional supports and remote access to counseling and mental health services as students transition into online learning.
- Districts should partner with local organizations to lead wellness check-ins on students who may need support or may be experiencing harm or abuse at home.
- Guarantee multilingual access, including the translation of all materials and resources (including hotlines) developed in response to COVID-19 for Non-EFL families into Spanish, and/or other commonly spoken languages.
- Operate as ‘Sanctuary Districts’ and provide the same resources for students and families who are undocumented.
- Do not request waivers at the state level of their legal obligations to students with disabilities and provide those students access to tailored services as required in their Individual Education Plans (IEPs), including needed compensatory services once schools re-open as directed by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Services.
- Ensure that students who are homeless have access to all needed services.
- Ensure that any students who were suspended prior to coronavirus receive access to all the same technology and resources described above to ensure they receive full access to remote learning.
- Provide access to services, summer schooling and other strategies to ensure that all students make up for lost learning, targeting resources in particular for those students with limited or no access to technology, students with disabilities, English Language Learners, homeless students and students in foster care.
- Apply at the state level for a federal waiver to cancel any and all scheduled standardized tests for the 2020 calendar year, and schools should give no grading beyond pass/fail for all students during school closures.
- Protect against increased policing, criminalization and surveillance of youth of color in their communities as schools are closed.
We call on federal policymakers to:
- Ensure that the CARES Act and other stimulus funding for K-12 schools do not allow districts to abdicate responsibility for students who receive Title 1 and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) support. There should be no waivers allowed for states or local school districts regarding IDEA requirements.
- Increase federal funding for education, including funds to ensure that all students receive the supports needed to make up for lost learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and have access to mental health and other services.
- Enact a National Moratorium on rent, utilities and evictions for a minimum of three months with no penalties for tenants after the moratorium is lifted. Students and families shouldn’t have to contend with the prospect of unsecure housing ever, and particularly during a global pandemic.
The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) challenges the systemic problem of pushout in our nation’s schools and works to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. As a national coalition, the Dignity in Schools Campaign builds power amongst parents, youth, organizers, advocates and educators to transform their own communities, support alternatives to a culture of zero-tolerance, punishment, criminalization and the dismantling of public schools, and fight racism and all forms of oppression.