A Poway High School faculty member hands a laptop to a student. School districts across the state have moved to online learning amid the coronavirus pandemic. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

For the past 12 weeks, I have been in the trenches alongside parents across the nation, helping my kids log into their Zoom meetings, keeping track of the half-dozen passwords needed to submit their assignments online and painfully realizing how difficult it is to manage a child’s education while both parents are working full time from home.

I write this as a mother of two kids in the public education system and as a former PTA president who has had a finger on the pulse of challenges faced by parents, students, teachers, school and district administration. I have seen all the sides and the question looming over our children’s education weighs heavily on my heart.

As we struggle, the Sacramento elite continue to throw punches at everyday working Californians, pushing their own agenda at the expense of our children. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s May budget proposal includes an overall cut to K-14 education funding by 14.3 percent and zero cuts to boondoggle projects like high-speed rail. According to the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office, 28 percent of the governor’s budget cuts come from K-14 education. This is unacceptable.

California’s “stay at home” order has been particularly hard on our children. Despite our best efforts as parents and teachers, we simply cannot deny that there has been a toll on our kids’ education and socialization. Not to mention the heartbreaking reports of hunger and abuse, and all of the unreported cases that receive no attention because the child is no longer under the watchful eye of their teacher. For far too many kids, school is their safe place and it has been taken away from them.

The broad range of medical professionals in my personal network all agree: Schools should open in the fall. Studies show that COVID-19 infection in children is less frequent and severe than adults, and child-to-child transmission is almost unheard of. This may be explained by the way immune systems and receptors work differently in adults versus children, particular those under the age of 12.

While we cannot go back in time, I firmly believe that schools in San Diego County should fully open themselves to students in the fall. We must weigh the ever-changing risks of the COVID-19 virus against the permanent educational, emotional and social damage we are inflicting on the next generation. For low-income and at-risk communities in particular, each day we keep children away from the safe space of school, the deeper and more irreversible that damage will be.

Human interaction is a key piece of the educational experience. In a world where kids have become increasingly distant from one another, they become even more reliant on technology and social media to help them feel connected with their peers. The result is an ever-increasing worry about their generation’s capacity for empathy and grace. Keeping them apart seems like the wrong move.

The fact that our state government places so little value on education explains why California, despite being the fifth largest economy in the world, ranks 38 out of 50 in childhood education and 47 out of 50 in income equality. Education is how we narrow the gap, and we must address the deficiencies in our public education system. Taking the deepest cut out of funding K-14 education, and holding access to public education hostage in the midst of the economic turmoil of a global pandemic, is reprehensible.

As a proponent of school choice, and the freedom to choose what is right for oneself and one’s own family, I would demand that we fully open the schools for those families and teachers who want to return to business as usual, while providing a distance learning alternative for those who aren’t quite ready to return. Whatever your preference, I think it is important to recognize that one size does not fit all, and parents should be supported in their right to choose what is best for their family.

June Cutter is an attorney and a candidate for Assembly District 77.

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