COVID-19 is a destructive force. But as much as it is wreaking havoc on communities, small businesses, and families, it is also bringing to light challenges we have neglected for far too long. It has also highlighted everyday examples of hope and courage. Here are our top five lessons learned from the public health crisis and what we need to do next to help make a more perfect Idaho.
When the IEA Board discussed recommending school closure all that was on our minds was how COVID-19 and school closure would impact our students. Schools closed and educators jumped in asking, “how can we help?” When our own lives were also sent into a tailspin, we stepped in to care for our students and one another. We saw parades of educators in cars waving to students at their homes, really saying “I love you. Everything is going to be alright.” We saw educators caring for our broader community–like members in Minidoka making masks for hospitals and educators in Moscow donating blood.
IEA members, let’s continue to lead with care in our hearts and fight for the schools our students–now, more than ever–deserve. The remaining lessons outline what our future schools need in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
Mental Health Wellness Precedes a Great Education
The first question educators asked when schools closed, “how are my students,” has often been met with the answer “not well” or, worse, it’s still an unanswered question. Many of our students already struggle with social and emotional issues. Trauma and the effects of poverty, such as homelessness and hunger, are now exacerbated. Students struggling with social and emotional issues prior COVID-19 are in danger of being left further behind. And now our broader student population undoubtedly is undergoing trauma, the scope of which we will see in the fall when, we hope, schools re-open.
Idaho’s investment in mental and emotional health is abysmal. There is just one counselor for every 562 students. We must take the lead to win the investments in social and emotional support our students need and deserve.
Access to Technology is an Educational Justice Issue
Our students now depend on technology and reliable internet to participate in public education. The pandemic has clearly illuminated this is an educational justice issue. Students with technology can participate more fully than those who do not have the same access. Many districts found emergency resources, such as laptops, Chromebooks, and even hotspots, to ensure students have access to the new online classroom. We don’t know what the next school year will look like, although it is impossible to imagine it won’t include the need for equitable access to technology.
Now is the Time to Act on Equity for Students
Recent events have raised concerns among the broader public about the achievement gap. “Educating the whole child” – ensuring students have what they need – is becoming a common understanding and mission. We are now talking on a slightly grander scale about how to meet the technology access, mental health, and nutrition needs of our students. That hasn’t translated to action. Even within the education community, some are talking about cutting services to students despite an abundance of federal aid and reserves for districts. Now is the time to talk about making investments to ensure that every student has the opportunity to meet their full potential.
Educational Support Professionals are Essential
When students return to school this fall, educators will be there to greet them. The educational support professionals – bus drivers, secretaries, custodians and more – bring advanced training, continuity, and stability of support and care for students. While buildings have been closed, they too have continued to provide vital services and often have gone unrecognized for their work. We need to lead to make professional pay and benefits for educational support professionals a reality.
The lessons learned during this crisis will help us move Idaho’s public education forward. We are so proud of the dedication and willingness of our educators to step in and provide for our students during this crisis. We are stronger together.
Layne McInelly, IEA President
Matt Aber-Towns, IEA Executive Director