Assemblywoman Smith Publishes Medium Post About State Role in Supporting Education During Coronavirus Pandemic

Thursday, May 7, 2020

SACRAMENTO, CA — Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Santa Clarita) published a Medium post today about her plan to create the State Assistance for Emergency Response (SAFER) task force within the California Department of Education. During states of emergencies, especially now with the COVID-19 crisis, there is a need for greater communication, collaboration, sharing of best practices and evaluation of data between the state department and local education agencies and school administrators on the ground.

The full text of the Medium post can be found here or below.

Medium post: As we talk about economic recovery, let’s talk about education recovery too.
By Assemblywoman Christy Smith
May 7, 2020

Coronavirus has transformed and threatened all aspects of our lives. As we navigate the fallout of this pandemic, we must especially turn our attention to supporting our public education system.

At the beginning of this legislative session, I introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 1837, which creates the State Assistance for Emergency Response (SAFER) team within the California Department of Education (CDE) to address states of emergencies. The measure was borne as a solution to problems posed by a fall recess mired by a historic wildfire season and a heartbreaking school shooting. It’s now applicable to an emergency of an entirely different kind and magnitude — a global pandemic.

All public schools in California are required to develop safety plans to address crises, and embedded in these policies and procedures is pandemic preparedness. In mid-March, to ensure the safety of students, educators and the surrounding community, schools shuttered and transitioned to learning from home. However, schools may have previously planned for days and weeks with school interruption, but not months. The question going forward is, how do we make sure students stay safe and continue their education despite what is sure to be the persistent crisis of COVID-19? SAFER will facilitate the infrastructure needed to address this crisis and crises henceforth.

Already, the COVID-19 crisis has presented the immense hardships of distance learning and magnified the inequities within our public education system. We are seeing how much families rely on school sites not just for student learning and child care, but also for basic necessities and public health and social services. For one, halting school also aggravates food insecurity, as some students depend on school for free and reduced breakfast and lunch. Though school districts quickly set up grab-and-go operations, logistical challenges still loom. Protection for food service workers, student nutrition and food shortages are just a few considerations for school administrators that could benefit from a partnership with SAFER.

We must also brace ourselves for the “COVID slide,” the loss of learning for students having a hard time keeping up with their curriculum during this lockdown. With remote instruction sustained by technology, the digital divide — disparate access to technological devices and the internet — exacerbates the issues of poverty and probability of academic losses. It also creates a barrier for teachers to make contact with their students. During the first two weeks of the shutdown, Los Angeles Unified School District — the second largest school district in the nation and serves my San Fernando Valley constituents — reported an inability to connect with 15,000 of its 120,000 high school students. Though the school district and state have provided free devices and internet hotspots, the root of the problem lies in without a physical learning facility and proper attendance enforcement tools, teachers are overburdened with ferreting the whereabouts of their students, begging them to engage in a new and foreign “classroom” setting. We need SAFER to work with school districts and administrators to establish important professional development for teachers.

These issues are just the tip of the iceberg of already existing problems in education but amplified by COVID-19. The challenges presented and beyond call for increased coordination, communication, sharing of best practices and collection and monitoring of real-time data. SAFER would establish a specialized unit within CDE that will directly work with school administrators to ensure that emergency response efforts are evaluating all perspectives and individual needs of each school district. Now more than ever, we need increased collaboration between our state and local education agencies to address the lead education recovery efforts ahead.

It’s important to remember we are all participants in our students’ educational outcomes, and a generation’s academic future is up to us. We must build upon our groundwork and make sure there aren’t cracks in foundational learning. So, let us close response and connectivity gaps, not reinforce achievement gaps.

Assemblywoman Christy Smith represents California’s 38th Assembly District, which includes the communities of Santa Clarita, Simi Valley, Agua Dulce, Castaic, Santa Susana Knolls and North San Fernando Valley.

Contact: Danni.Wang@asm.ca.gov (661) 286-1565 or (913) 449-0802