A crisis is building — what will “school” look like in the fall? The problem? Most states, districts and schools are creating schedules for educating children that don’t work for many kids, parents or families. 

The potential blend of in-person-schooling and remote learning at home virtually ensures that low-income families will be faced with the daunting prospect of choosing between showing up to work and staying home with their school-aged children for several days a week. This is an untenable choice.

Despite the best intentions and hard work of educators, our educational system favors the wealthy over the poor. It favors white students over all others. 

Tony Lewis

The structural racism built into school finance (wealthier students get more public funds), school buildings (wealthier communities, better buildings), access to technology and devices and a myriad of other areas mean poorer students have less resources across the board.  

If we want to begin to change those race-based inequalities, then we have an incredible opportunity to do so: we must provide both child care and learning for all kids, five days a week. We cannot put low-income families in the position of choosing between their work and their child.

If schools plan to operate this fall on schedules that provide in-person learning in school buildings for two to three days per week (or alternatively one week on and one week off), expecting that parents will supervise their children the other days, they are setting students and families up to fail. 

While this might work for the privileged few who can hire a nanny, spend extra money on out-of-school providers or drive their kids to other places of learning, it does not work for families with fewer resources.  

All families must have their children in safe and supportive learning places when they leave for work.

How can schools do this? By creating schedules that accommodate parents, not schools.

Schools and districts did yeoman’s work this spring, pivoting quickly to provide learning remotely. Many children, however, still received either a lackluster remote educational experience or a complete lack of learning – and certainly no publicly provided child care. 

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This is simply unacceptable for the upcoming fall and spring semesters – and district-created “options” that rely on parents supervising children (especially young children) for several days a week at home completely ignore the reality for many families of needing to be physically present at their job.  

There are options. Schools and districts can use gym, cafeteria and community spaces more creatively with small groups of children. They can partner with community-based programs and organizations to provide learning during the “school day.” They can provide common space with supervision for those kids who have nowhere to go on remote learning days.

To accomplish this, schools and districts will need to share funding with out-of-school learning providers to create and implement programs for small groups of students — when they are not being supported by the school in person. 

Schools and districts need to partner with national and local providers of outdoor learning, environmental education, arts, literacy and afterschool programs. 

They should make available the programming of hyper-local learning providers that are community based, culturally relevant and community driven. Solving the at-home remote learning challenge will have to come not only from schools but from community partners including libraries, recreation centers, nonprofit and for-profit organizations.

There will be many families who look at the current options and plans for schooling in the fall and find that they fall way short of what is needed. Some families with resources will hire their own teachers for small groups of kids – an option not available to many. 

For families without those resources, schools should provide the option for any family to receive at least half of their child’s per-pupil revenue in order for them to purchase the services they need on the days they’re not in school – from any provider willing to assist them in creating the learning playlist and safe child care that their child needs to thrive.  

By sharing resources and investing in families, we can start to restructure racism out of public schools. You allow families to direct their child’s resources for a quality education. You trust them and invest in them.  

The pandemic has created huge challenges for institutions and organizations, which has resulted in even bigger challenges for students and families. Let us not amplify this crisis by resorting to poorly implemented schedules that put parents in the untenable position of choosing either child care or employment. 

Let us use it to innovate and provide a high-quality education for all children to learn, grow and thrive by combining a multitude of community-based learning providers, working with schools and districts, to serve all of our children. 

Let us use it to start dismantling the structural and systemic racism inherent in our current educational systems.

Tony Lewis has led the Donnell-Kay Foundation for the past 20 years to improve education in Colorado. He lives near Lyons with his wife, dog, cats, chickens, ducks and bees.

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