Most educators are well acquainted with the phenomenon known as “summer brain drain,” the learning loss that many students experience during the summer break from school. Researchers estimate that students can lose an average of up to three months of learning proficiency in math and reading. For students with special healthcare needs and those with physical or intellectual disabilities, the losses from interruptions to classroom learning—the interruptions millions of children are experiencing due to the coronavirus pandemic—can be more exaggerated and harder to overcome, says Caroline Marney, a 16-year veteran special education instructor in Houston.
With schools in 47 states and the District of Columbia closing indefinitely, educators, students and communities are grappling with the uncertainties of the new COVID-19 reality. And as school districts look for new ways to teach the nearly 57 million students who are away from their classrooms, the coronavirus health crisis is exposing and deepening inequities that continue to plague public education.
Connecticut closed its schools March 13 in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. The school closures meant school nurses like Toni Pederson would be out of work for at least several weeks. As fate would have it, however, the state established COVID-19 test sites at local hospitals, and nurses like Pederson were needed on the frontlines.
Student debt, already a heavy burden on the U.S. economy, is an even bigger problem now that the coronavirus is shutting businesses and student loan borrowers are losing income. To minimize the damage, the AFT, in partnership with the Student Borrower Protection Center, is circulating information and tips to help borrowers through the crisis with tools like income-driven repayment plans and hardship deferment. The AFT is also working with lawmakers to ensure that substantial student loan relief is part of the coronavirus relief legislation.
Under the aegis of Public Services International, AFT President Randi Weingarten last week moderated a videoconference of union leaders from 10 nations who offered their experiences and lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic.
Acting on a clear mandate from the AFT’s membership, the AFT executive council passed a resolution March 22 endorsing Vice President Joe Biden for president. After more than a year of member engagement on the endorsement process—with more than 300,000 AFT members nationwide participating in candidate events, town halls, polls, regional conferences and other efforts—new membership polls show strong support for Biden. “Before the COVID-19 epidemic, the 2020 election was about the soul of our country,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Now it’s about our soul, our safety, our health, our security and our economic well-being. Joe Biden is the experienced and empathic leader our country needs right now.”
As the coronavirus affects people around the globe, college campuses are emptying out and students, faculty and staff are struggling to adjust. AFT affiliates are fighting to close campuses where staff are still required to report to work; others are reaching out to displaced students with no housing or food sources, and circulating resources to move classes online. The AFT and AAUP’s set of guiding principles is one of several resources available during this tumultuous time.
Public employees have always been heroes. Now they are superheroes. Like public sector workers everywhere, members of the New York State Public Employees Federation continue to provide vital services through the coronavirus pandemic that has gripped our nation, whether they’re doing the job at their worksites, working from home or even traveling house to house administering tests for the novel coronavirus.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is spreading rapidly across the country, and the World Health Organization has declared it a global pandemic. As clusters of coronavirus cases continue to emerge in communities where our members live and work—and transform daily life—the AFT is focused on prevention and precaution, treatment and the long-term economic impact of the outbreak.
In a landmark win for public school students and working families, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has increased public education spending by $216 million for the coming school year. With a 4 percent salary increase for educators, millions more for early childhood services and funding for tuition-free college, the budget, passed by a pro-education administration, shows what a difference elections can make.