School closures may harm students’ progress – but also be a teachable moment – Daily News


For Service Employees International Union Local 99 member Paola Fonseca, staging a strike this week to draw attention to the plight of some of the lowest-paid employees in the Los Angeles Unified School District is an action worth standing up for.

At the same time, she’s concerned that three days of school closures is hurting students with special needs – including her son, a 6-year-old with autism who struggles to cope when their normal routines are disrupted. And not being in school means her son, who is nonverbal, is not getting the speech services he needs.

“Things like (school closures) clearly throw off his whole schedule and he doesn’t get the services,” said Fonseca, a special-education assistant at Herrick Elementary School in Sylmar.

“He has a hard time adjusting because he’s very routine-based,” she continued. “But if he misses a day due to a strike … getting him back on his regular schedule is a challenge not just for us or him, but his teacher too, when he (returns).”

Another parent, whose 12-year-old daughter has special needs and attends Hale Charter Academy in Woodland Hills, said missing even a day of school can be harmful.

“For somebody who struggles in intellectual capability, three days is a big deal,” said parent Jeremy Kahn, who said he and his wife can’t afford a private tutor. “We rely on the school district to provide the services.”

It’s not only special-education students who may be struggling with interruptions brought on by this week’s strike, though.

Being home again on what would otherwise be a regular school day could retrigger negative memories for students who struggled with isolation or distance learning during the first part of the COVID-19 pandemic, one education expert said.

On the other hand, another education expert said not all impacts of the strike may be negative and suggested that this week could serve as a lesson to students about the power of collective action.

Pedro Noguera, dean of the USC Rossier School of Education, said if students had not just gone through the last few years of pandemic-related interruptions, a three-day strike would be a minor blip. But this latest round of school closures, coming on the heels of the pandemic, represents not only potential learning loss, but time lost for children to socialize.

“Part of the rhythm of education is related to being with your peers, being with your teachers. That rhythm got really disrupted during the pandemic,” said Noguera, adding that this week’s school closures undermine efforts to reengage students as they’re recovering from the pandemic.

The strike can also harm over-achieving students who, while they may not experience learning loss this week, tend to stress over whether they’re keeping up academically.

“They’re often very anxious about their performance,” Noguera said. “They might become even more so because they’re not in school.”

But the strike could present opportunities for learning as well, said John Rogers, a professor of education at UCLA.

“To the extent young people come away from these three days feeling like ‘I’ve seen how people come together to collectively take action to change the conditions of their lives and the lives of people in their communities,’ that’s an important learning opportunity,” Rogers said.

“In a community where most of the young people attending LAUSD schools come from working-class families, to see other adults who are like them join in collective action to effect change is very powerful,” he said.



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