This week’s Newsmaker Interview is with Moya Morgan Skillman, a Bellevue mother of two, who is involved with the local School is Essential group that aims to bring “kids back in the classroom and stop the mental health pandemic and achievement gap that the school shutdown has created.” Skillman discusses the data that shows it is safe to reopen schools and the political reasons why this has not occurred.
Skillman also announces the formation of a new statewide organization, the Washington Alliance 4 Kids, that will be a statewide advocacy group to reopen schools.
What led to the formation of Schools are Essential?
School Is Essential is an amazing group of Bellevue parents and community members who care about the future of our children and want to safely reopen schools. It’s a diverse group in terms of geographical area and parents with children of all ages as well as educators and medical professionals. I’m so grateful for all of their hard work. I joined the group within the last month and I’ve been working hard to help them expand their message, member base and reach the decision makers who can solve this urgent issue.
What are the goals of the organization?
The common goal: get kids back in the classroom and stop the mental health pandemic and achievement gap that the school shutdown has created.
We now have months of data from all across the country, and even in areas where Covid-19 is rising, and the data shows schools can be safe environments for students and teachers who want to return. There are even private schools here in WA that have been open since August and they have had either zero cases of community spread or only very isolated cases of a few people. The widespread transmission simply isn’t happening. It’s time to push past the fear and study the data and the science.
We need sound decisions based on data and we must make kids a top priority again. There are over 280,000 kids without access to high speed internet in our state. That equates to 280,000 kids not being educated right now. Over 39,000 kids left the WA public school system this year. I could go on and on. The statistics are horrifying, and this is an issue that affects everyone in our state. If you are a business owner, you need strong schools to educate your future workers. If you are in healthcare, you need strong schools to educate the next generation of medical professionals. If you are in high tech, you need strong schools for your next recruiting class of engineers. Our schools have been closed for nine months. Let me say that again, kids in WA have been out of school for nine months. Let that sink in.
Why are school districts hesitant to bring students back into the classroom either full-time or on a hybrid schedule?
That’s the million-dollar question. And I say that with the pun intended.
When you talk with the local school districts, they say their hands are tied until the state changes the Department of Health (DOH) guidelines. When you talk to Superintendent Reykdal, he blames the local districts.
The DOH announced last week they were going to possibly change the guidelines from a case rate of 75 per 100,000 to 200 per 100,000. This would have made a huge difference in steps towards opening our schools.
However, WEA union president Richard Delaney just announced today on social media that he successfully convinced Governor Inslee to stop DOH from making that change. So, you ask why schools aren’t open? Follow the money. Follow the political contributions.
I truly don’t understand why the unions don’t want to be back in the classroom. Teaching remotely is incredibly hard. The burden this is placing on teachers is something we have never seen. It’s incredibly frustrating for them to teach remotely. In addition, you now have children who are two months behind, four months behind, six months behind.
My guess is the union leadership see this as their chance to bargain for additional wants and needs. They are able to hold the entire population of children and parents hostage. I’ve heard privately from so many teachers who want to be back teaching in person.
Have you been in contact with other parents around the state who share your concerns and what have you learned from them?
Yes. Through my work with School Is Essential, I discovered a need for a statewide group to be created. I’m happy to announce that WA Alliance 4 Kids is now up and running as of today! Your readers can visit us at waalliance4kids.org This statewide group will do the following: 1) serve as an information and data resource for parents and community members trying to get schools open, 2) a community connection place where parent and community groups can find each other. Several of these groups exist on Facebook so it can be hard sometimes for concerned citizens to find the group in their area that is advocating for kids 3) pushing for changes at the state level. We will be actively involved with the legislature and state, county and local officials to ensure that kids are being put first and we do everything we can to repair the damage that the school shutdown has caused. The movement is growing by the hour. There is widespread support for a return to in person learning and we are finally shining a bright light on the reasons why.
How do you think COVID-19 will impact education in the coming years?
Covid-19 is now a fact of life. It’s something we all need to adapt to. It’s like how we adapted to flying again after 9/11. Life changed forever. And now it’s hard to even imagine flying without going through TSA screening etc.
As human beings we adapt to life’s risks. We learn how to navigate and continue to live a full life. The idea that schools should remain closed until the “virus is gone” simply isn’t based in reality. The virus isn’t going away. Even when the vaccine becomes available it will take months for widespread adoption. I’m hopeful that with organizations like Shift and other media outlets, the correct information will finally make it’s way to the surface.
I’ve had several off the record conversations with doctors who all agree schools should be open. Schools can put safety protocols in place. Screening, temperature taking, masks, social distancing. This is all working in several parts of the country and even in the Mead school district here in Washington state as well as private schools and organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs of Bellevue.
How can other parents get involved?
They can do three things: 1) visit waalliance4kids.org and sign our statewide petition to open schools and then 2) find a group in their area via our site and get involved and 3) follow their local group and our group on social media to help spread the correct science and data that schools can open safely.
Time is running out. We are truly in a middle of a mental health pandemic. There is no time left to waste and I hope they’ll join us in our fight.