ATLANTA — Today, advocates from eight student rights and education advocacy organizations sent a letter to Georgia officials urging proactive and equitable measures to address the challenges that the COVID-19 crisis has had and will continue to have on vulnerable students in the state as schools move to reopen for the 2020-21 academic year.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis began, Georgia’s public education system lacked equitable opportunities to learn, especially for students with disabilities, low-income students, and students of color. Students with disabilities and students of color in the state have historically and systematically experienced greater adverse educational outcomes in the form of disproportionately low graduation rates, and disproportionately high rates of school pushout and exclusionary discipline.
The letter sent today to Georgia State School Superintendent Richard Woods and the Members of the Georgia Board of Education outlines recommendations to address these inequities, from the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Georgia Legal Services Program, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Parent to Parent of Georgia, Southern Poverty Law Center, Goodmark Law Firm LLC, Lipson Advocacy and Zimring Law Firm, who represent students, educators, families.
The advocates argue that Georgia has the obligation to guide and support local education agencies (LEAs) in remedying and preventing educational losses suffered by students with disabilities, low-income students, and students of color. They are specifically asking the state to engage in additional planning and implementation both for reopening of schools and for the possibility of continued distance-learning in the following areas:
• Regaining any academic losses for students with disabilities and preventing similar losses during future distance-learning periods, and;
• Ensuring students have the support to meet their social, emotional and mental health needs during and after this crisis; including expanding trauma-informed and restorative practices and reducing punitive measures.
“Georgia public schools have never served all students equally. Students with low incomes, students of color, and students with disabilities have always faced significant, systemic barriers to accessing a meaningful education, reflected by disproportionately high rates of school discipline and pushout. School closures due to COVID-19 have only intensified these barriers as students across the state have struggled to access technology and services, all while facing increased stress and trauma from the pandemic. Unless the GDOE commits to repairing the academic losses suffered during this time and to building healthy and safe school climates for the upcoming year, opportunity gaps will only continue to widen – maybe even beyond repair,” said Georgia Legal Services Program Supervising Attorney Jessica Stuart.
“COVID-19 has presented many challenges for educators and schools across the country. Georgia is not any different and the $1 billion budget cut the state legislature just approved is especially troubling as we head into the new school year,” said Southern Poverty Law Center Staff Attorney Claire Sherburne. “State officials must ensure students have all the support and services they need to learn and thrive. It’s our hope that the State will take this opportunity to advance educational equity for Georgia’s students by providing comprehensive leadership and guidance to the school districts that serve them.”