Guest Commentary: Parents Feel Ignored, Denied Good Options as School Returns

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Students are going back to school in person this week.

They naturally have high hopes for the new school year.

Their parents, though, are worried.

The last 18 months of the COVID-19 school shutdown have hurt families. Schools provided 16 months of remote instruction and six weeks of minimal in-person instruction. Parents are still worried about the COVID-19 virus, about the masks and vaccines, and about making up the academic learning students have lost.

They are examining their district back-to-school plans.

For example, Lauren Hipp, the mother of a 7-year-old at Graham Hill Elementary, is not impressed by Seattle Public Schools: 

“We lack a universal outdoor lunch strategy, regular COVID testing, and have only a limited remote option with hundreds on the waitlist,” she said. “While principals and teachers are doing the very best they can, our systems and policies are falling short.”

Hipp has put her finger on the essential problem.

The systems and policies of public education have failed, despite the best efforts of teachers and principals.

Seattle Public Schools is the wealthiest district in the state, spending $20,500 per student each year on operating expenses. Yet over the summer, the district officials decided to cancel the remote learning option.

During this continuing health crisis, district officials ignored the wishes of many parents. District officials don’t care. They don’t have to please the parents.    

Hipp is angry. She challenges policymakers to do their part:

“I’m angry because families are being forgotten, left behind and with few choices — none of them good. Our kids and families are doing their part to keep society safe — in many cases at enormous personal cost in terms of mental and socioemotional health. Can our policymakers offer them the same protection in return?”

One way policymakers can do their part is to give parents resources to create micro-schools, or learning pods.

These schools have only five to 10 students, similar to those in the popular Prenda program based in Arizona. For example, policymakers in New Hampshire have responded to the needs of families by awarding grants to districts to encourage partnerships with Prenda.

Instead, in April, during the last session of the Washington state legislature, lawmakers blocked HB 1215, a bill sponsored by state Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, which would have provided families $7,000 for the education of their children. With these funds, parents could have created safe micro-schools and learning pods for their children. The powerful teachers union, whose representatives control the education committees of the legislature, killed the bill.

The silver lining here is that parents are now painfully aware of these public education realities, and asking for more options to educate their children. Many other states are passing laws similar to HB 1215, which give resources directly to families for education. When parents have access to programs like these, school officials will start listening and responding to mothers like Lauren Hipp.

All she wants is a safe, good school for her seven-year-old, and policymakers have many ways to give her one.    

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Liv Finne is the director of the Center of Education at the Washington Policy Center.

 

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