SAN FRANCISCO—Today, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California sent a letter to the Lemoore Union Elementary School District expressing deep concern for the District’s failure to provide all students with a distance learning option during the Covid-19 pandemic. The letter urges the District to immediately comply with public health guidance and the law to provide a high-quality distance learning option to all students who seek it.
Lemoore’s requirement that hundreds of students choose between attending school in-person, thereby risking the health of their families and themselves, and receiving no instruction at all undermines the fundamental tenets of educational equity. The District’s hardline approach is particularly troubling given that the majority of the students served by the District are Latinx, Black, and/or low-income, communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.
In September 2020, the District surveyed parents to ask if they preferred a distance learning option for their children once in-person instruction resumed. Starting in November of 2020, at the beginning of the largest surge in COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, parents who either did not respond to the survey or who changed their minds since the survey was conducted, have been forced by the District to return their children to school in-person.
Parents who requested the distance learning option after the survey’s deadline have been placed on a waitlist for distance learning that includes hundreds of other parents. There is little transparency about how the waitlist works, and the District continues to pressure parents whose students are on the waitlist by sending truancy letters to students who are not currently attending in-person classes.
Paul Blair, a single father of five children, three of whom attend school in the District, is fearful of getting seriously ill from a COVID 19 infection. “I have hypertension, if I get sick, my kids will be alone.” In February, his youngest daughter, who is in third grade, had distance learning for two weeks after her entire class was sent home after an outbreak. For those two weeks, she was able to take part in classes again for the first time since November. But after the two weeks ended, the other students went back to in-person school, and she had no instruction at all. This month, Mr. Blair gave up and transferred her to a different school district where she can attend school via distance learning.
It is worth noting that since reopening, the Lemoore Union School District has regularly reported COVID-19 outbreaks in its schools, averaging six cases a week, with ten current cases as of March 24, 2021.
“The Lemoore school district’s failure to provide sufficient distance learning opportunities to its students impacts their right to equal educational opportunity,” said Linnea Nelson, Education Equity Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “We implore the District to change course immediately and offer both in-person and distance instruction of commensurate quality to all of its students.”