Column by State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa
The education of our children is a top priority. However, the most pressing issue at this time remains the health and safety of all our fellow Texans. For this reason, last week I wrote a letter to Governor Greg Abbott urging him to use his authority to cancel classes for the rest of the academic year to ensure the safety of our students and their parents. The lost instructional time is a serious sacrifice, but we can take other steps to make up for this lost time.
In his April 17 executive order, Governor Abbott closed schools for the rest of the academic year, but did not end instruction. I know that closing schools for the remainder of the academic year is not the news our teachers wanted to hear. However, they know that it is a decision that needed to be made to help contain the spread of COVID-19 for the safety of the students and our families. Our students probably never imagined that when they left for spring break, it would be the last time they would see their friends or teachers this school year.
Our educators work tirelessly in their classrooms to ensure that all Texas children have access to a quality education. They strive daily to ensure our children are able to achieve their potential and fully participate now and in the future in the social, economic, and educational opportunities of our state and nation. While the Texas Education Agency and the leadership of Commissioner Mike Morath continue to provide guidance, resources, and support to our school districts, these new “At-home Schools” are challenging for parents, students, and teachers. I appreciate the efforts of TEA and I am amazed of how quickly our school districts, their leadership teams, and the teachers were able to move to online instruction.
But every district is different, with different needs and different resources. We must recognize these differences and the challenges that accompany them, such as lack of internet access and/or electronic devices. We must also work to ensure children across all grade levels receive the best education possible, recognizing that online instruction for younger children, especially K-2 carries additional challenges for parents not properly trained in early childhood education.
Recently, I joined a webinar with South Texas business and community leaders to hear from education experts. One administrator was rightfully concerned about the impact school closures will have on these students and our future. He was also critical of the school districts that were “just providing packets” to their students. He advocated holding principals and teachers accountable to a higher standard despite this crisis. We all want our students to continue to make educational advances and should do all that we can to achieve that goal. However, we also have to be cognizant of the current reality and adjust what steps we take down the road to ensure our children don’t end up a step behind.
We have all seen and felt the impacts of COVID 19. With more than 1 million Texans now out of work, and millions of others afraid they might be next, we know the stress and anxiety parents and teachers are feeling. Adding the additional role of teacher, to parents, is difficult enough without also having to worry about income and what’s for dinner.
I know teachers are going to do the best job they can with the tools available despite not having been specifically trained for online instruction. And, while our parents are always expected to be full-time partners with educators for the education of their children, I commend those now going above and beyond to be full time parents and teachers.
However, I remain concerned for the children, who through no fault of their own, will receive no pass or failing grades because they lack the technology resources to comply with these requirements, or their parents are working or waiting for their call to be answered by the Texas Workforce Commission, or waiting in line to get food for their kids. And, I feel for the Spanish speaking parents and those with limited education, who may struggle to teach or communicate with the teacher.
There is no doubt that we will overcome this health crisis. Soon we will safely return to work and see the Texas economy thrive once again. But we cannot lose sight of our future — and that’s our children. We must ensure they thrive as well and not let this current crisis become an everlasting obstacle in achieving their dreams.