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No Seat at the Table for BPS Students

By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Today in Boston, schools are empty and bars are open. As students in the Boston Public School system shift back to fully remote learning due to a citywide COVID-19 uptick, local restaurants and bars remain open to the public — many with indoor dining. Not a month before the move to remote-only learning, Boston relaxed restaurant dining restrictions to expand customer party capacity and open up bar seating. How is it that high need children have lost the limited access they had to their physical classrooms, while any adult is able to waltz into a Boston restaurant?

All Boston public school students began this school year in remote-only instruction. “Highest need students” — a classification which includes students experiencing homelessness, those with disabilities, and English language learners — were allowed to return to in-person classes two days per week beginning Oct. 1. The ability of these highest need students to attend a brick and mortar school twice a week is what has been lost in Boston’s all-out school closure.

The closing of Boston Public Schools hurts these children. When school shifts to home, inequalities are exacerbated. The third of Boston Public School students who are learning English may lack the English language support at home necessary to successfully transition to online learning. Economically disadvantaged students, who make up roughly three quarters of BPS students, may not have sufficient access to the internet and necessary technology. And what does remote learning look like for the 4,500 Boston Public School students who are homeless? Or for the one in five students who participate in BPS disability programs? We worry about how the critical in-person support schools briefly provided these students will be transfigured to fit the online environment, if recapitulating it virtually is even possible.

For many K-12 students, under normal circumstances school provides support and stability they may be hard pressed to find elsewhere. Because of COVID, there will be a generation of children who will have to do without. It will take intense efforts to catch these kids up and to keep them on the grid. Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius has acknowledged the great difficulty the shift to online-only learning poses to students losing school access, and says the district is exploring options to remotely support these high needs students. However, publicly announced plans have yet to surface three weeks after the move to online-only schooling. The digital divide widens in the meantime.

Harvard and its students could help combat this — students from the Harvard Graduate Schools of Education and Harvard schools at large could pitch in to support Boston Public Schools, from providing tutoring resources to generating innovative ideas to mitigate the impact of remote learning on vulnerable students.

Experts are predicting that the pandemic will only get worse as temperatures plunge. We fear that it may be long before Boston Public Schools reaches its benchmark for resuming in-person learning for highest need students, which requires the “citywide seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate is at 5% or below for two consecutive weeks.” The cost of closing schools is high. Public health guidelines should not be flouted, but we find ourselves wondering: How long can this cost accrue before something irreparable breaks?

This benchmark also poses the question of whether we should prioritize consistency for students over experimental attempts at in-person learning. It’s possible that Boston’s citywide positivity rate fluctuates above and below the 5 percent benchmark. Is a snippet of in-person learning worth a disruptive, mid-semester change in learning mode?

Perhaps we could learn a lesson from cities over 100 years ago that employed impressively creative techniques to keep schools safe and open during the Spanish Influenza: They created open-air classrooms (even in the winter), taught on top of the school roofs, and, in one case, held class in an abandoned ferry.

What we are sure of is that if students can’t sit at desks, it doesn’t make much sense that adults can sit down at restaurants. Boston Public School’s will to protect the health of its students and workers is admirable and apparent. But the cost of online-only education are real — however much we feel that as college students, our younger and less-privileged peers must feel it all the more so. What sacrifices the city makes on their behalf needs to be readdressed: A bottle of beer and round of appetizers at the neighborhood dive is a good place to start.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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