We all said 2021 would be different than locked down 2020. Vaccines were coming on the scene, the world reopened, and life as we knew it would be ours again. Except it isn’t…

Districtadministrator.com’s Mark Zalaznicki, in his September 28 piece, “School Closings Tracker: Where Districts Are Shutting Down Again” opens with the line: “Just like during the initial COVID outbreak in March 2020, schools across the country are shutting down as infection rates surge in their classrooms and communities.”

A backward glance spring 2020 should serve as warning because…

*** During the 2020-21 school year, public school enrollments fell by 2%–about 1.1 million fewer students—mostly because of remote instruction, says the National Bureau of Economics.

*** Remote-only instruction reduced kindergarten enrollment by 3% to 4% and elementary school enrollment by1%.

*** Wherever kindergarten is mandatory, enrollment dropped by 3.9%; wherever kindergarten is optional, it fell by 4.6%.

Moreover, evidence from national and state studies suggests that ALL students learned less that school year than they would have had they been back in school—especially those in the earliest grades, as well as low-income Black and Latino students. They stayed fully remote far longer compared to white kids.

(By the way, according to data service Burbio, as of September 5, COVID had closed at least 1,000 schools across 31 states.)

Meanwhile, a survey of 1,005 parents and 495 educators by Understood and UnidosUS found that:

  • Most wanted full-time, in-person instruction this September.
  • 90% of teachers and 61% of parents expected big challenges as in-person instruction resumed.
  • 78% of both groups listed academic development as their main concern.
  • 65% of both groups were concerned about the anxiety their kids might feel.
  • 63% of both groups named social concerns.
  • 62% of both groups had emotional concerns.
  • 61% of teachers saw a need for more hands-on activities.
  • 57% of teachers wanted smaller class sizes.
  • 55% of teachers wanted more flexible learning environments.
  • 50% of teachers wanted more one-on-one interaction with students.
  • 66% of parents wanted schools to provide additional learning devices—laptops and tablets—to homes with more than one school-aged child.
  • 54% of parents wanted guidance on how to access social services.

So much wanting and so, not surprisingly, our schools have been tasked with ever more responsibilities, many of which they’re not designed to handle. Among them and a big worry for administrators:

** Setting up drug treatment facilities for opioid-addicted students
** Catching up with seeing to backlogged maintenance issues, such as leaking roots and old pipes.
** Protecting against ransomware attacks.
** Paying families’ internet bills, so their kids can learn remotely.

Remember, too, that, during the pandemic, schools operated as sites for mental health services and pop-up vaccine clinics while also:

  • Supporting students academically and emotionally
  • Keeping up with “whiplash inducing” COVID health guidance
  • Holding on to and bolstering struggling employees
  • Expanding tech access
  • Protecting everyone from still-spreading COVID

Plus, now provide:

  1. More preschool programming
  2. More career-tech offerings
  3. Stronger wi-fi service in classrooms
  4. More gender-inclusive athletic facilities
  5. More mental health services
  6. More IT supports

As Education Week’s Mark Lieberman puts it, “These responsibilities highlight the essential role schools play… but also reflect the ways in which governments—federal, state, and local—expect more of schools than they are willing to pay for. They establish expectations that schools will take care of these services, so that other systems don’t have to.”

Those include underfunded special education services, curing many of society’s ills, and standing in more and more for parents—even feeding students, and in many cases all their students, not just lunch, but breakfast and dinner, too.

Meanwhile, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics’ finds that more than 188,000 staff openings remain, including for substitute teachers, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers.

Not so surprising then to see the September 28 USA Today op-ed piece, “I’m a 30-Year Teacher, But Even I Ask: Who Would Want This Job?” In it, writes Larry Strauss, South Los Angeles high school English teacher and author of Light Man: “Let me emphasize that” Schools do a lot of things. They provide health—including mental health—services. They feed students and sometimes their families. Still they are schools, and education is the primary mission or ought to be.”

With my thanks, Carol