With the recent announcement by the WHO of the Coronavirus outbreak officially becoming a pandemic, countries have been quick to prepare for a shutdown. With governments, companies, and entertainment events announcing their closure it seems like the entire global population is putting their defenses up against the virus. Millions of students around the world have already had their schools close, anxiously awaiting for updates on the situation.
However, despite the widespread shutdown of colleges and K-12 schools, several school districts, specifically public school districts, are hesitant about taking extreme action, and for good reasons. For a large number of underprivileged students, schools are where they may be able to have access to essential needs, such as hot meals and medical attention. Many students also have parents with jobs that make them unable to be present at all times. Taking away school days from such students could easily put them in a very jeopardizing situation.
The New York City school district is a strong example of this crisis, as it has 750,000 children that are poor, including 114,000 who are homeless. In certain schools, nearly half of the students do not have Internet access, ruling out the possibility of moving in-person classes online. Additionally, many busy parents in New York cannot afford to take time off from work, with the issue of paid sick leaves in the state still presenting itself as a problem. For thousands of under deserving kids in the district, schools are a safe space, places that are protecting them from becoming even more vulnerable. Because of such matters, the New York City district has decided that shutting down schools will only be a last resort option.
Similar problems are affecting students at the college level as well. As an attempt to completely clear their campuses and move classes completely online, many college institutions have urged students to travel back home and stay there. However, this does not prove to be as easy for all students, especially those of international and low-income backgrounds; the efforts of moving back home will prove extensive hardships. Many students do not actually have a safe home to return to, and their colleges are the only place they can rely on for consistent food and shelter. Students at Harvard were only given a notice of five days to fully vacate campus, and they were expected to attend classes online for the rest of the week. Extreme burdens and stress have been placed on those with limited resources to make the necessary accommodations of flights, housing, etc. It seems as though many of these institutions are ignoring the needs of students who already feel invisible.
The Coronavirus outbreak has not only been a crisis for global health, but has also brought to light issues that have always been present in public education systems. The prospect of school shutting down for a few weeks may seem like a treat to the average student, but it is important to be aware of the students who do not have the same privilege. Schools are safe spaces for so many underprivileged children, and to suddenly take that away would be placing them in a very vulnerable position. During this chaotic time where it seems like the whole world is in a panic, we must remember to look out for those who may not have the resources to themselves.
<Isabel Hahn/OC School of the Arts 10th