California recently passed a record high budget for education of over $263 billion. While this is an important step in recovery as schools across California begin to bounce back from over a year of remote learning, there are some definite downsides. As part of this new budget, school districts will not receive funding for students wanting to do distance learning. This means that most districts, like Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD), will not allow students to participate in a remote learning plan apart from independent study. Although the intent of this measure is simply to push for a full return to in-person instruction, it means that many students — especially those in high-risk households — will have to dramatically change their classes in order to continue their education. In order to ensure a safe education for all students, California must continue funding distance learning.
At Berkeley High School (BHS), moving to independent study means that you’re unable to be in a Small Learning Community (SLC) such as Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS) or Berkeley International High School (BIHS). Students who had been preparing for the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma, but aren’t prepared to return to in-person learning are unable to continue their path towards the diploma. This holds true for most schools across the state that offer the IB diploma. Additionally, independent study for most schools means considerably less instruction time from teachers. While many of the students who chose this option may benefit from the independence, students forced into it are likely to suffer from the sudden lack of instruction time. It’s unfair for students who have no choice but to learn from home to be forced into these conditions without alternatives.
Governor Gavin Newsom claims that this budget measure will predominantly benefit low-ncome students and students of color, due to their higher success rates in in-person learning programs, but the reality is that the families who are at highest risk of being affected by COVID-19 are often those without access to good healthcare. As one might guess, those are predominantly low-income families and families of color. These demographics are also the least likely to be fully vaccinated currently, leaving them even more at risk of COVID-19. According to a survey by the Institute of Education Sciences, Asian American, Latino, and Black students are more than twice as likely to choose full-time remote learning than white students. Because of this, many students who were already falling behind during full-time remote instruction are liable to fall even further behind in independent study. Additionally, because of this lack of instruction, many students — especially those with less active academic support at home — may opt out of independent learning, despite being at high-risk for COVID-19.
While returning to in-person school is an eventual necessity, if we want to ensure students the best education possible, the California legislature must remember that the pandemic is, unfortunately, not over yet. Especially as the Delta variant spreads across America in both vaccinated and unvaccinated communities, it is more important than ever to provide students with alternatives to in-person learning. Forcing schools to send their students to in-person school without adequate remote alternatives is irresponsible, inequitable, and will result in more issues than it solves.