Government officials are taking swift public health actions to slow the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic. As of March 23, 2020, statewide school closures stretched across 46 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, affecting 54.5 million K-12 public school students in our country. Over 20 million of these students live within the seventeen states covered by the Southern Education Foundation, and a majority of these students live in poverty.
Keeping equity in focus
While the coronavirus pandemic impacts all students, students from under-served communities have an even greater need for the academic, social, emotional and nutritional supports schools provide. In many situations, schools also provide a place a safety. Many school and district leaders are doing the best they can to fill the gap, but they—like all of us who are navigating this new reality—are dealing with limited and evolving information while focusing on the day-to-day needs of students and families on the ground.
Since our founding in 1867, the Southern Education Foundation has been on the frontlines training and supporting teachers and leaders in the South. We have doubled down on our historic strategy of developing and sharing research-based, practitioner-informed policies, then connecting these solutions to an engaged civic and legislative community who can advance equitable education policies and practices.
This week, Dr. Kelli Joseph, Superintendent of the St. Helena Parish School District in Louisiana, expressed how her participation in SEF’s Racial Equity Leadership Network has helped her navigate this moment. “Being an equity leader makes you look at everything differently. Our kids’ meals and assignments are being delivered by bus rather than picked up because they all can’t drive to a designated location.” The district is also using bus fleets to deliver assignments to and from students and has also installed new Wi-Fi access points at all school buildings so parents can park at schools to get on the internet. Dr. Joseph and her team are also exploring providing low-cost, take-home Wi-Fi hotspots to families.