How COVID-19 is Bringing Inequality to the Forefront
For the past few weeks, one image has been recurring in my mind.
I keep picturing the living conditions of a student whose home I visited a few times when I was working as a community school coordinator in Baltimore.
This student had struggled at other schools but was thriving at ours. He had repeated second grade, so his maturity compared to his peers was notable, but overall, he was just a really sweet kid.
We did a number of home visits for him that year because he missed a lot of school, and as a black child from a low-income home with documented learning disabilities, school was even more important for him than most.
Every time I get frustrated with having to stay home – in my very comfortable apartment, with my husband and dog, and with fairly steady work – I’ve been trying to check myself.
I keep thinking of my former student and imagining how difficult it must be to be confined to a space that may not be healthy, safe, or developmentally appropriate.
I keep thinking about all the students I’ve known who love coming to school because there are people there who love them, two to three meals a day, and a sense of community.
I keep thinking that I wish I knew how to help them all right now.
There is no question that low-income students struggle to get to school. (I wrote about this in my last blog post as well.) According to Attendance Works:
“Children living in poverty are two to three times more likely to be chronically absent—and face the most harm because their community lacks the resources to make up for the lost learning in school. Students from communities of color as well as those with disabilities are disproportionately affected.”
Unfortunately, they’re struggling to access school online as well.
The New York Times reported this week that large percentages of low-income students in districts across the country are absent from the virtual education being provided as a result of COVID-19.
So not only are students from disadvantaged backgrounds missing out on the resources that many of them so desperately need and want to access, but they are also disconnected from their school communities.
Since it is unclear when we will be able to return to work and school, there is the possibility that our highest-need children could be without school for many months, only exacerbating already-existing gaps in achievement and opportunity.
Making matters worse, black communities are disproportionately becoming victim to COVID-19.
As one of the many social determinants of health, education joins other critical factors such as adequate housing, socioeconomic status, access to and coverage of healthcare, and more to comprise health outcomes for people and communities.
As you can see in the chart below from the Kaiser Family Foundation, these factors have a profound impact on a person’s ability to live a healthy life.
For low-income black communities in particular, the collective impact of these factors has not only disastrous outcomes but also clear roots.
Dr. Camara Jones, a physician and epidemiologist, is cited in the article linked above about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on black communities:
“COVID is just unmasking the deep disinvestment in our communities, the historical injustices and the impact of residential segregation… This is the time to name racism as the cause of all of those things. The overrepresentation of people of color in poverty and white people in wealth is not just a happenstance.”
Our unequal and unfair society is how it is by design and not by chance.
COVID-19 is showing us how this is even more urgently a matter of life or death.
Other than overhauling our government systems and laws entirely, I struggle with not knowing how these issues can be fixed or what I as an individual can do to make things better for others.
I just hope that opening up the dialogue about these issues will start to lead to changes for students like mine and the families and communities in which they live.