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COVID-19 is exacerbating pre-existing inequities in education.

As we are inundated with calls for “reopening schools” and returning to normal, it is crucial that we demand a just future for our education system that includes students as full participants in the decision-making process, from the school to state levels. Where people are reimagining the future of schools, the voices of the most marginalized students are consistently sidelined. Our collective of youth-driven organizations has outlined key principles to move school forward and is taking local action to drive student-centric change.

Guiding Principles

  1. Students must have a voice that shapes their education.

    For schools to serve the diverse interests of students authentically, young people must have a meaningful seat at the table as experts in planning for the upcoming fall semester, including policy, practice and resource allocation. As the education system changes rapidly as a result of COVID-19, students must be partners in the decision-making process at school, district and state levels.

  2. A just response to COVID-19 must prioritize comprehensive support for marginalized students.

    Historically, marginalized communities have disproportionately carried the burden of inequitable resources and budget cuts. Especially as they are disproportionately affected by the health and economic effects of COVID-19, prioritizing underserved students requires providing all students with the resources they need to effectively learn.

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    Marginalized communities include, but are not limited to:

    1. Students of color, especially Black and indigenous (BIPOC), Latinx and Southeast Asian students. Especially noting that subgroups within the umbrella of ‘students of color’ (i.e. Black students, indigenous students, etc.) face marginalization and discrimination in distinct ways.
    2. Students who identify as LGBTQIA+ and/or gender non-conforming
    3. Students with disabilities (e.g., IEP and 504) and/or learning differences
    4. Students with significant needs (e.g., health, behavior and 1:1 instructional services)
    5. English learners
    6. Students in alternative learning programs
    7. Students experiencing poverty
    8. Students living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty
    9. Students in foster care
    10. Students experiencing homelessness
    11. Students who are incarcerated, court-involved and/or have otherwise been impacted by the criminal justice system
    12. Students who are immigrants, undocumented and/or living in mixed-status households
    13. Students who are migratory

    How You Can Help

    Research your school and school district’s policies to determine if comprehensive supports are provided to each of the above groups and ask decisionmakers to prioritize resources for underserved communities.

  3. Students’ basic needs must be completely met.

    To begin to participate in learning, students must be guaranteed access to the critical social supports they require during this time, including food and water, a safe home, physical and mental health care and more. Schools must recognize the changing financial circumstances of their students as a result of COVID-19 and play a fundamental role in meeting students’ basic needs through free, nutritious school lunches, tutoring, family supports, health and social services and youth development.

  4. The public sector should support schools in closing the digital divide.

    To mitigate the worst inequities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, students must be guaranteed access to the technology they need to participate in distance learning, including internet, digital devices and headphones. We cannot continue to neglect both rural and urban communities who have lacked access to these essential resources, which must be publicly available for all during and beyond the pandemic.

    Learn More

    1. Read Pew Research Center’s report on the internet’s essentially during COVID-19.
    2. Learn how Inner City Struggle is addressing the digital divide in LA.

    How You Can Help

    Write a letter to your local school board and state legislature asking them to address the digital divide ahead of the upcoming school year.

  5. Schools must cultivate a positive and nurturing climate and culture.

    Students, educators and schools should collaborate to develop strong, reciprocal working relationships. Schools should use community-based approaches to conflict resolution rather than disengaging students from learning. Whether online or in-person, schools should prioritize safe school environments, social-emotional learning and access to mental health supports. Schools should support the whole child and invest in trauma-informed teaching, school counselors and social workers, with attention to affinity-based mental health support.

  6. The educational system must move away from one-size-fits-all instructional and evaluation methods on both a classroom and school level.

    In classrooms, students must have access to differentiated, contextualized instruction and various opportunities to demonstrate understanding of material through growth-based methods. While it is necessary to evaluate learning and instructional practices, schools must be measured holistically and contextually, not merely with standardized testing. Evaluation systems should measure how well schools are closing opportunity gaps, instead of using a scoring system to rate schools and teachers that reinforces inequities.

  7. Students must be equipped to analyze the United States’ history of injustice, white supremacy and inequality and respond as critical civic actors.

    School curriculums must decenter whiteness through accurate portrayals of social and political history that dissect the United States’ history of systemic oppression and highlight the resistance and resilience of marginalized groups, as well as communicate national history in global context. Schools should prioritize preparing students to be active participants in their communities by providing them with the resources and knowledge to engage directly through a diversity of tactics, including community organizing, mutual aid support, mobilizing protest networks, encouraging donations, voting and more. This includes registering and pre-registering eligible students to vote and informing students about how COVID-19 has impacted civic processes.

  8. Teachers and all school staff should be fully supported to advance educational equity.

    Especially during a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty, school staff must not be laid off, furloughed or made to take pay cuts and receive salaries that align with their cost of living. For the educational system to retain effective educators, teachers must have a voice in decisions about how the educational system is moving forward at the school, district and state levels. Teacher workforces should be representative of the diversity of their students and receive professional development that enables them to foster equity in education.

  9. Schools must be funded equitably and adequately.

    Public schools are an essential public good because they are a direct investment in the lives of young people. It must be a priority of both the federal government and individual state governments to ensure that no education-related budget cuts are made as a result of COVID-19 and that public schools are funded at adequate levels. Funding should be strategically allocated to ensure high-need schools have the resources to provide all students with access to a free and high-quality public education.

    Learn More

    1. Adequacy studies explain the amount of funding that is essential for school systems to operate. Read about the gap between current funding levels in California and the amount recommended in this adequacy study.
    2. Read about adequacy and equity school finance concerns and recommendations in Washington, D.C.
    3. See how students are advocating for equitable funding in California

    How You Can Help

    Look up a past adequacy study for your state and compare it to current budget levels. Write to state decision makers asking them not to drop funding below that level. If they must make cuts, ask them to consider prioritizing funding in property-poor areas.

  10. To move school forward, we must invest in community partnerships.

    Local communities are experiencing unprecedented uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic. For schools to be just social institutions, they must be bolstered by robust social infrastructures in their surrounding communities. Community schools offer a strategy for how schools can prioritize comprehensive supports for students, engage parents and families and respond to local needs and strengths for enriched learning possibilities.


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Collective organizations must be practitioners of youth voice (youth-led or youth-driven), and have an explicit focus on education equity and justice.

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