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COMMENTARY: Reopen Virginia's public schools for our children
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COMMENTARY: Reopen Virginia's public schools for our children

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Virtual Learning

In February, Lisa Weatherly taught in her Virginia Middle School classroom in Bristol. Several students were in person while others in the class used the remote learning option.

Children of all stripes are falling behind as many schools across the commonwealth continue to stay closed to in-person learning.

At this point, fewer than half of the counties in Virginia fully have returned to in-person education, and according to the Virginia Department of Education, “fully operational” still can mean only having students in the classroom four days a week as opposed to five.

We are at a crisis point for our children. You all have seen the statistics and studies. Students in Fairfax County Public Schools, the largest school district in Virginia, have seen a huge spike in failing grades by students engaged in remote learning.

According to a report in The Washington Post, over the past academic year, failing grades for middle school and high school students jumped by 83%.

But Virginia families don’t need to me rattle off statistics or studies, because they have seen the struggles firsthand, and they are darker and more complex than students simply falling behind.

There are substantial mental health impacts on children being out of the classroom. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental health-related emergency room visits shot up by 28% between March and October of last year for children ages 5 to 17.

This is unacceptable. Virginia can do better. And, Virginians deserve better.

Minority students disproportionately are being impacted. One study from McKinsey and Co. found that on average, white students fell behind in remote learning by one to three months in math, while Black students fell behind three to five months in math.

As a father of Black children, that is not good enough for my kids—or any kids in Virginia.

But it’s not just children who are struggling—not even close. Parents are struggling to balance providing for their families while supervising remote learning. This puts a huge burden particularly on single mothers.

My wife was a single mother before we married. The difficulties these brave women face are near and dear to my heart. Single moms across our state are facing the question of whether to go into work or supervise their kid’s education. We can do better and we can do better safely.

I’m currently representing one Virginia family that is suing Arlington County schools to reopen to in-person education and to acknowledge that distance learning is not “high-quality education.”

The Supreme Court of Virginia declared that education is a fundamental right under the Virginia Constitution, and the Virginia Constitution provides for “an education program of high quality.”

Yet, the distance learning protocols in place during the COVID-19 pandemic are proving to be an insufficient replacement for quality in-classroom learning.

Jack White is a Republican candidate for attorney general in Virginia. He is a former clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and the former chairman of the board of the Fairfax County Public Schools Education Foundation. Contact him at: jack@votejackwhite.com

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