Photo: U.S. Department Of Education
The following open letter was sent to the U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona by the National Parents Union:
Dear Secretary Cardona:
Since March of 2020, our children and families have suffered from the disastrous effects of the pandemic as a result of a gross dereliction of leadership at the local, state and national levels in the American school system.
In a letter addressed to the nation’s educators and education stakeholders, you gave parents a reason to believe change was inevitable by your clarion call to work together to safely reopen all schools for in-person learning. The research was conclusive: when students can do so safely, students are better off learning in school, in person, rather than remotely.
As an authentic and compassionate leader, parents from underserved communities rallied behind your common-sense guidance for what you were able to accomplish in Connecticut—by offering clear, expert-driven guidance; communicating with teachers and staff, administrators, parents, and students; connecting medical experts with schools; and supporting flexibility for districts to revise and revisit plans based on local health data.
Now 10 months later, with more than $120 billion in relief funding given to schools for ventilation and social distancing in classrooms and coronavirus testing, parents are forced to make impossible decisions as school districts across the country delay a return to in-person learning.
Instead of making smart choices and developing contingency plans for both predictable and unforeseen challenges that will continue to face us in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, our American education system continues to cling to a reactive rather than proactive mindset that is once again putting additional strain on American families.
It is our goal at the National Parents Union to ensure that every child has an equitable, high-quality education. We believe that your success is our success and urge you to recommend that districts and schools immediately commit to the following:
- Utilize the ESSER funds, regular per pupil funding, and other educational supplementary grants such as Title 1, according to their intended use and purpose.
- Make plans to secure Covid-19 testing supplies for the February and April breaks that are on the horizon.
- Make plans to provide additional instructional support in the summer for children in districts who will face yet another year of interrupted learning and make those plans known and available to families by no later than March 31st.
- Allocate funding for schools to take full responsibility of repairing or replacing overused, outdated, or broken tech devices so students can readily access resources should a switch to temporary remote learning become necessary.
- Ensure emergency contingency plans are in place for students with disabilities. Establish clear and appropriate plans to address the transportation gap and expand transportation accessibility to schools.
- Use this time of year, when schools and districts are currently building their budgets, to ensure that there is additional funding to respond to future crises.
- Actively involve parents in the development and implementation of the school budget through open virtual and in person forums while making sure plans are transparent and clear to all families.
- Plan for best practice testing for the 2022-2023 fall and winter breaks.
- Develop literacy outreach and intervention plans to increase literacy and reduce learning regression.
- Engage with existing organizations to develop plans to bring parents and community members into the building to provide triage mental health or academic support/tutoring in areas where staffing levels are in critical condition.
- Designate funding for Out-of-School Time Programs for Youth (OST) and nonprofit organizations providing care centers for families in need of programs that offer child schoolwork assistance
- Develop strategic partnerships to increase workforce development programming for middle and high school students.
- Create partnerships to offer a safe drop off center for students who would otherwise be unsupervised because parents have to go to work.
Without a doubt, the educational system needs to partner with families to meet the needs of students. We ask you as a leader to not only seriously consider our recommendations, but also reinstate the Biden Child Tax Credit payment program to provide parents and families needed support when they are being asked to take time off of work due to the ongoing pandemic.
In addition, we request that the Department of Education hold hearings to provide transparency and a plan for oversight around the $200 billion dollars in federal resources already allocated to America’s schools for Covid-19 mitigation strategies, PPE, HVAC updates, testing, social distancing and getting kids back into classrooms safely.
The National Parents Union