SEATTLE – The first scheduled day of going to school in a year did not go as planned for Seattle parents and students. District officials planned to bring back kindergartners and first graders, but the Seattle Education Association refused.
Nearby Northshore School District was the first in the nation to go all remote when the pandemic hit last year. Students are still all remote, and many parents are angry worrying about their children.
“They’re lonely, they’re isolated, they’re depressed, their grades are down,” said Karli Geller, who has two kids in Northshore Schools. She and her husband are also teachers.
Geller’s concerns are confirmed in a new report commissioned by the Walton Family Foundation. The American Enterprise Institute and five other nonprofits analyzed 130 studies and concluded that the public benefits of closing schools the last year are “questionable” and they are far outweighed by the grave risks to children.
The report said schools are not super-spreaders and many students are suffering mental health problems. It also said academic loss is “so severe that it could set children back for life.”
Seattle schools are closed even after district officials did a walk through examining work done in schools to improve ventilation. Union officials acknowledged there were no problems detected.
According to data tracker Burbio, Washington state ranks 46th in getting students back to classrooms, with 26% learning in-person. California is last at just 12%.
As parents and students protest, Congress keeps throwing more money at public schools for COVID relief. Three rounds of federal relief starting last March total $197 billion for K-12 education. The largest chunk comes from the $1.9 trillion stimulus package signed into law Thursday. It includes $130 billion for schools. Republicans fear it will be wasted.
“It’s really not about opening schools, which is unfortunate,” says Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. “We need to get our schools open. Our kids are in crisis, and we need to get them back in school.”
Washington state has already received more than $1 billion in coronavirus relief for schools. The state superintendent, who supports reopening, said the money definitely comes with strings attached.
“There will be dozens and dozens of districts who do not get authorization of that money for the month of March, and we’ll keep working with them and see if they can get there in April or May,” said Superintendent Chris Reykdal.
But the Washington Education Association believes schools will get their COVID relief funds whether kids are in the classroom or not.
“We’re not aware of any education funding, including the federal relief funds, that have been restricted to in-person schools only,” spokeswoman Julie Popper said.
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