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The 2020 pandemic year did great damage to our children. Their education abruptly ended in March. It was then renewed in various forms, with heavy reliance on a remote-learning scheme that had not been well thought out. Teachers were unprepared, technology was unevenly available, and the students were often unengaged. The all-important social and behavioral learning that comes from being part of a group experience was lost for many students.  

Now, we face the start of a new school year, with the virus resurgent in its delta variant. A mask mandate is back for all students and staff in K-12 education. There will be challenges again this year. What is different is that we should be better prepared. We should have learned from the year just passed. Millions of dollars have flowed to school districts from relief bills in Washington meant to address many of the shortcomings of the previous year.  

No, the money doesn’t make it less of a challenge. Yes, the safety of the children, teachers and staff is of paramount importance. Yet, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we must do better this time. The year lost, and, for many students, it was a year lost, cannot happen again.  

The American Academy of Pediatrics noted in July that the heavy reliance on remote learning last year “was detrimental to the educational attainment of all students of all ages.” The Academy went on to advise that “the benefits of in-person instruction outweigh the risks in almost all circumstances.” The Academy pointed to the fact that in-school transmission rates have been low “when proper preventative measures are used.” 

Last year, parents across the nation reacted to the uneven response of public education entities faced with the pandemic. The Stanford Center for Educational Policy Analysis reported a loss of 11 million K-12 students, most in kindergarten and the early grades. In New Jersey, kindergarten enrollment dropped by 9%. Parents kept students in preschool or child care, moved children to private schools that returned earlier to in-person instruction, and many explored home schooling, which jumped to 11% nationally and 14% in New Jersey, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  

In California, where we have data because affidavits are required, there was an increase of 55% in affidavits filed for home schools, many of which involved pods of six or more students. 

According to the New York Times, at least 10,000 public school districts saw a decrease of 20% or more in kindergarten enrollment. 

We must recognize the pressures put on public school districts and boards of education. They make policy that impacts our most precious assets - our children. The school experience is not directly comparable to the private sector efforts to adjust supply chains, work environments and safety concerns. However, there is a lesson to be learned.  

For the most part, while not perfect, the record in the private sector was admirable. Supplies, with short-term disruptions, were available, services were delivered, and, yes, newspapers came out on time. We must bring that same sense of determination to the educational experience. 

The message is clear. We must not allow this year to replicate last year. We must do better this time. We should all stand ready to support efforts that keep our children safe and in school where they have the best opportunity to thrive. 

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From the Bible:  A leader who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor, Proverbs 28:16 

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