Elisha Smith Arrillaga, Courtesy Photo

As California practiced distanced learning due to coronavirus, many parents were left to teach their students and access behaviors without the help of teachers from home. Wednesday, April 8, 2020, Education Trust-West (ETW) released the results from a statewide poll of parents in response to COVID-19 related school closures since the change occurred.

Following the poll, ETW held a virtual press call to share the survey findings. Speakers of the call included Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond, Executive Director of ETW and Dr. Elisha Smith Arrillaga. Other guests were Project Director of Parent Organization Network, Araceli Simeon, Chief Deputy Superintendent of California Department of Education, Stephanie Gregson Ed.D, and President of California School Boards Association, Xilonin Cruz-Gonzalez.

“The poll tells a troubling story about the second crisis, the equity crisis. Long before this pandemic came to our shores, California faced an epidemic of entry occasional inequality,” Dr. Arrillaga stated. “For decades, we have given the least access to opportunity to the students who need it most. We give students of color and low-income students, the least access to critical coursework, highly qualified teachers, crucial technology, and a host of other resources.”

Based on the poll, 80 percent of Los Angeles parents reported not having the resources or supplies to help their child stay on track academically. Nearly 20 percent said they had little to no information about resources from the school or the district. 27 percent of parents are worried about reliable internet at home and 33 percent reported lacking adequate devices at home to access distance learning.

Tony Thurmond, Courtesy Photo

“Educators, policymakers, and advocates should move quickly to address those immediate needs,” she continued. “But, they also must look ahead. There is simply no way to close schools for a month without gaps in student learning.”

Dr. Arrillaga shares that ETW has created a web source compiled of COVID-19 related tools and resources. “We are launching a new series called education, equity, and crisis to guide educators, advocates, and policymakers on how to ensure the short and long term solutions help the students hit hardest by the crisis.”

As the call continued, she allowed the experts to share information on behalf of the organizations they represent. First up, Stephanie Gregson. “The California Department of Education is focusing on how to support students and their families to ensure learning is still happening.” She further details they are hosting webinars via Facebook and utilizing media to creatively reach parents in need. As far as resources for students are concerned, “We are leading a digital tech task force focused on securing devices and hotspots for promise students in rural communities.”

Xilonin Cruz-Gonzalez, Courtesy Photo

Xilonin Cruz-Gonzalez followed sharing methods the California School Board Association is using to further progress student’s access and education. Proud of the work being done in such a quick manner and untimely event, she recognized those who are working diligently to aid these families. However, the closures as many agreed, highlights the digital divide. “This crisis has brought to the floor existing inequities that have been in place for a long time,” she said. “But I think very clearly, this digital divide comes to the front”

“There is an uneven and often inadequate distribution of infrastructure, hardware, curriculum, professional development, and especially the home environments required to have equitable distance learning. This challenge is especially difficult for low-income households and students in rural areas.” She continues to declare the organization is will pursue public-private partnerships and governmental advocacy. “We believe that only with a state-led effort can we fill these holes a hole of this magnitude.”

Thurman also chimed, “We’re committed to taking that feedback and to fine-tuning guidance every single time to try and get closer to providing resources because let’s face it, this is something that teachers are being asked to do that they’ve not done before.”

Araceli Simeon, Courtesy Photo

Lastly, Araceli Simeon confirmed her organization is doing everything they can to coordinate food and technology distribution, as well as bridging cultural gaps and language barriers. “we strongly believe that if we can use this moment to redefine learning, and bring together our collective strengths, creativity, and resilience to meet this pivotal moment, we cannot just ameliorate the situation, but we can work together towards closing the achievement gaps and maybe even transform the way we teach children.”

The press call ended with a brief question and answer portion. The overall outcome was that of positivity and hope, two keys to continue to fight for education and families across California during these unexpected and trying times.

“Nobody chooses to find themselves in a public health emergency. But we do choose how we respond to it. I’m so proud of how California’s leaders and educators have responded to the immediate challenge,” Dr. Arrillaga stated. “If we muster the same unity of purpose. If we continue to listen to students and families. If we commit to directing the most resources to the people who bear the brunt of the pain, I’m confident that we can bounce back stronger than ever.”

For more information on the poll visit https://west.edtrust.org/ca-parent-poll-covid-19-and-school-closures/.