Guest Columnist

With schools closed, Iowa children lose their support systems

A longtime Iowa teacher reflects on the impact of coronavirus

An empty classroom holds old school supplies in St. Ansgar on Thursday, May 11, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
An empty classroom holds old school supplies in St. Ansgar on Thursday, May 11, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

With the 30-day shutdown at the Iowa Legislature and the governor’s recommendation of a four-week closure of the school systems to lessen the spread of the coronavirus, there are many concerns about the unintended consequences of this for the children, their families and school employees.

For many children, school is the safest space in their lives. School is not just a place of learning, but a safe environment where children receive two meals each day — and probably some extra snacks to take home that their teachers provide, just in case. School is where the students have a connection with caring adults who are able to work with them, and devote the time they need for their development.

As a teacher myself, I know that educators worry about their students who may not have that nurturing environment at home. We know that school breaks are often very difficult for the kids, and so this extended break will be even more difficult.

There are parents who may be working two and three jobs trying to put food on the table and pay the bills, who cannot afford to stay home with their children, or may lack the necessities to care for them day in and day out while the schools are closed. In many cases, older children are then responsible for the younger children for long days while their parents are at work.

If there’s a high school senior in your life, give them a hug. To them, the possibility of canceling school is not a vacation. It’s time they won’t get to spend with their friends the last few months before they graduate. They’re anxious, realizing they may never be able to take the stage again, compete in large group and solo ensemble, speech, music, choir, one act plays, prom and more with their best friends, or hear their name called on senior night. They’re nervous that they may not be able to walk the stage and get the diploma they have been working hard on for 13 years. Show them support and love them during these hard times. There is so much to think about for our kids who are worried.

The shutdown also brings about a concern about the loss of jobs. Some parents may need to stay home with young children, or due to the shutdown, business owners may need to downsize or run fewer shifts with fewer customers.

There are many hourly workers in the school system as well that we must be concerned about, as they are in need of their wages to live, and our school systems need them to be available to come back when the schools reopen.

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In education, it’s hard to come by good paraeducators, bus drivers, custodians, food and nutrition workers, secretaries, substitute teachers — all other staff who may not be in the classroom, but who work for the betterment of the educational environment for the kids we serve each day. They too are essential to the school system, and to the children. All of these workers are in need of their wages to support their own families. It is my sincere hope that during the shut down, the school districts will continue to pay hourly workers their regular wages.

Though I know the schools will put the kids’ nutrition first by making sure those who want and need meals will have them available throughout the shut down, it will not substitute for the day to day school interactions in a safe learning environment, and the care that they receive each day from their teachers.

So as we figure out the needs and the gaps during the shut down over the next month, please keep an eye on your neighbors, and in particular, on the children in your neighborhoods to make sure that they have safe spaces, and caring adults to talk to each day.

Molly Donahue is a special-education teacher and she represents District 68 in the Iowa House of Representatives.

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