Many Students Falling Further Behind with Schools Still Closed

When we look back on the pandemic, one of the greatest failures on the part of Gov. Tim Walz and his experts will have been preventing K-12 students from attending classes in person for most of the time. The evidence continues to mount on the detrimental impact of distance-learning online on Minnesota students, socially and academically. Yet on it goes.

The latest report card on what’s turning out to be a lost year academically comes from MPR on at-risk students in Northfield.

“Our at-risk kids are truly at risk and are struggling in all of their course work,” said Hope Langston, Northfield’s director of instructional services. “The effect is magnified. So instead of failing maybe two courses last year, they’re failing all five.”

Much of the media attention has focused on St. Paul schools. Hundreds in the state’s second largest school district need remedial academic help as the number of failing grades has virtually doubled this academic year.

It’s so troublesome the district’s leaders literally used incendiary language to describe the appalling outcome of fall classes to the Star Tribune.

Kate Wilcox-Harris, chief academic officer in St. Paul, said the district has maintained a sense of urgency since the start of the pandemic. She invited board members to think of the school system as a building on fire striving to get students to the exits and employing “whatever it takes to get them there,” she said.

Board Member Chauntyll Allen, a former education assistant at Como Park High School, said: “The building has been on fire for quite some time.” She advised quick action, and said she would continue applying pressure.

Administrators know students need to be in class with their peers and teachers. Yet incredibly St. Paul still has no concrete plan to get students back where they belong.

This month’s [school board] discussions about “ensuring high levels of instruction and learning during COVID-19” spanned several hours over the course of two meetings, with a lot of talk about work underway to make the most of in-person opportunities.

Board Member Jim Vue said that while he was hearing a lot of good ideas, he felt the presentations were more like brainstorming sessions, and he was yearning for an actual plan.

In November St. Paul closed the district’s only in-person help center where students were clearly making progress catching up on their studies. And parents can only wonder at the district’s lack of urgency with no plan to reopen in-person academic assistance centers for their children until February.