Fed-Up Parents Successfully Overcome California’s Pandemic Schooling Challenges

Amid the peak of the pandemic’s impact in spring 2020, Maria O., along with her husband and four children, found themselves confined to their modest one-bedroom apartment in South Los Angeles. The challenge of balancing work and remote schooling in a limited space, coupled with a scarcity of tech devices and spotty Wi-Fi, led to the children resorting to using their parents’ phones for online classes. The academic performance of the children suffered, and frustrations mounted within the family.

Reflecting on the trying period, Maria O. shared, “People on the outside don’t know the impact that remote learning had on families like us. It was hard and it was stressful. We stayed afloat, but it wasn’t easy.”

Having been part of a lawsuit against the state, Maria O. and others highlighted the shortcomings of remote learning in various schools, particularly affecting low-income, Black, and Latino students. The recent settlement in Alameda County Superior Court mandated the utilization of the remaining $2 billion in COVID relief funds for aiding students in overcoming the academic and emotional setbacks incurred due to remote learning.

The Challenges of School Closures

Going beyond the legal aspects, the lawsuit sheds light on the significant learning loss experienced during the pandemic. Despite commendable efforts by educators to engage students remotely, the lasting effects on student well-being and mental health are profound. The urgency to support students, especially those from marginalized communities, has been underscored by the crisis, according to UCLA’s Center for the Transformation of Schools.

UCLA’s research, conducted on behalf of the lawsuit plaintiffs, emphasizes the exacerbation of existing disparities by remote learning and the lack of adequate guidance from the state to navigate the unprecedented situation.

Elizabeth Sanders from the California Department of Education acknowledged the challenges faced by students and families. Despite decentralized education governance, Sanders highlighted the department’s swift responses to support schools during the pandemic.

In addressing the pressing needs of schools, including the distribution of tech devices and connectivity solutions, California intervened to mitigate the disruptions caused by the pandemic. Additional online resources were made available to assist schools in managing various aspects of the crisis.

Joe Bishop pointed out the decentralized support system for districts, stating, “They were largely left alone to weather the COVID storm.”

While some districts navigated remote learning effectively, others struggled to meet the essential requirements of students, from technological needs to mental health support, creating a sense of isolation for schools and districts.

The researchers at UCLA proposed a collaborative effort involving the Department of Education, the Legislature, and other agencies to develop a comprehensive recovery plan addressing staffing shortages, mental health services, and tailored support for vulnerable students.

Joe Bishop stressed the need for a clear roadmap for educational recovery, urging the state to take decisive action in response to the stagnant learning outcomes.

Challenges Faced by Parents

Kelly R., another plaintiff in the lawsuit, expressed hope that the settlement funds would aid students in California in regaining their academic footing. Her daughters, enrolled in Los Angeles Unified, encountered difficulties during remote learning due to shortened school hours and unreliable Wi-Fi connectivity.

As a case manager working from home, Kelly R. highlighted the disparities in educational experiences among students based on their socio-economic backgrounds, emphasizing the sense of helplessness felt by many families during the pandemic.

Success Story: Compton Unified

Compton Unified, located in Los Angeles County, showcased significant progress post-pandemic, as indicated by the latest data from the California Schools Dashboard. The English language arts scores surpassed pre-pandemic levels, while math scores also improved notably. The district’s graduation rate reached 89%, reflecting positive strides in academic achievement.

Superintendent Darin Brawley credited the district’s investments in tutoring and mental health services for the turnaround, along with an early reopening strategy that allowed some students to return to in-person learning ahead of other schools.

Emphasizing the importance of accountability and follow-up in utilizing the settlement funds, Brawley acknowledged the necessity of targeted support for the most affected students.

Assessing California’s Education Landscape

While California experienced significant learning loss during the pandemic, the state’s recovery efforts have placed it in a mid-tier position nationally, according to findings from the Stanford Graduate School of Education. The variations in recovery rates across districts indicate the need for sustained efforts and strategic planning to ensure continued progress in education.

Sean Reardon highlighted the remarkable strides made by some districts in overcoming learning setbacks, attributing much of the progress to the dedication of teachers in supporting students academically and emotionally.

Looking ahead, the sustainability of this recovery remains a key concern, particularly as the COVID relief funds are expected to diminish this year.

As Maria O. reflects on the enduring impact of the pandemic on her family, she remains committed to advocating for students who lack the support system her children benefitted from. The solidarity shown through Community Coalition’s assistance has been instrumental in navigating the challenges faced during remote learning.

Expressing concerns about her high school son’s disengagement, Maria O. underscores the importance of amplifying the voices of students most affected by the disruptions in education.