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Monday, Aug. 10, 2020

Children Left Behind

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Caddo Parish Schools Get a “D” for Denial

The announcement should have been accompanied by a warning label at the very least. You know, like the ones from the Surgeon General, printed on packs of cigarettes that say, “Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health” or “Cigarette Smoke Contains Carbon Monoxide.”

Yes, it’s that serious. But Caddo Schools Superintendent Dr. Lamar Goree seemed almost indifferent or unconcerned when he announced last week that more than 50% of Caddo Parish students would be choosing to stay home this new school year and participate in the parish’s virtual learning program (instead of returning to the classroom).

He should have included warnings of the “side effects” of virtual learning or remaining out of the classroom otherwise. But he didn’t. He expressed no apprehension or uneasiness. Instead, he somewhat built up the idea of virtual classes, saying classes “will be taught by your teacher at an actual school.”

But that’s hardly the same, and after looking at the data, virtual classes aren’t for everyone.

Doesn’t Goree know that almost half of our poorest students will likely be accessing virtual classes only about once a week (and not every day)?

Doesn’t he know that more than one-third of our families, with an annual income below $30,000, will have no high-speed Internet connection at home? Or that one-third of these families have no laptop or mobile device, and even if they do, it’s most often shared with other siblings, who are also attempting distance learning?

Surely, Goree knows that the American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued guidance for school districts to do everything they can to bring students back into classrooms. They said it’s not just for academic reasons, however. They noted that “lengthy time away from school … often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression and suicidal ideation.”

So if Goree knows all this, and that half of our poorest students will not be accessing virtual classes on a daily basis and will therefore fall further and further behind on their reading and math skills, then why is there no push back from Goree on this news that more than 50% of Caddo Parish students aren’t returning to the classroom?

Maybe it’s because he knows “everybody” is doing it, from one school district to the next.

Half of all students in Jefferson Parish are opting out of traditional learning and will be staying home. Acadiana school districts are seeing roughly one-quarter to one-third of their student populations opt for fully virtual learning programs.

Chicago Public Schools announced they would be starting the year with distance learning only (no students in the classroom at all). In California, it’s the same, except neither public nor private schools may reopen in any counties where coronavirus continues to spread – including Los Angeles County, which is the nation’s second-largest school system.

The trouble is, if we stay with remote learning this entire school year, and the absentee rate is as high as it was in March, April and May, then we will likely lose a generation of students who may need to repeat an entire year of classes. For example, we know if a child is behind at the end of first grade, there is a one in 10 chance that he or she will never catch up.

And that’s true regardless of whether you are rich or poor, black or white. In fact, in later years, students who fall behind in fourth and eighth grades have less than a one in three chance of being ready for college or a career by the end of high school.

And this means a lifetime of lower wages and less economic mobility.

Now maybe Goree’s seeming indifference here was because he really wasn’t surprised that more than 50% of Caddo students were not returning to the classroom. In fact, he said, “We had anticipated that those numbers would be high, so we certainly have been preparing and supporting a successful implementation of virtual learning.”

But that’s only part of it. You see, in order for students to do well in school, they need more than just technology for virtual learning.

They also need someone to make them do their homework. To fix them a wellbalanced breakfast. To communicate with their teacher on their progress. To make sure they get a good night’s sleep and attend class every day and on time. To be respectful and obey.

And for most, they need to be in a classroom.

Not virtually. But actually. And until that happens, most will fall so far behind that they will never catch up.

Of course, their families have the choice to keep them out of the classroom – but shouldn’t that come with some sort of warning label as well?

Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in 318 Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at louisavallone@mac.com, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.


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