Let’s Get ALL Kids Back in Class

by Kerry Dougherty

It’s one of the cardinal sins of journalism: Burying the lede.

That’s newspaper talk for dropping the most important point in a news story deep in the copy.

Prime example: The local newspaper’s front-page story on Thursday: “As In-School Learning Returns, A Racial Divide.”

In this case you had to read past the jump (the break from the front page to page 8) all the way to the 10th paragraph to find the real news.

There it was: A member of the Virginia Beach School Board, Jessica Owens, is cautious of the return to in-person classes because she thinks it mostly benefits white kids.

No, I am not joking.

One of the troubling trends to emerge from the return to in-person classes is how few African-American families are sending their children back to school. According to news reports, a full 72% of white children are back in class at the Beach, while only 38% of black children are there.

We could fix that by doing away with the failed experiment called virtual instruction, but that would require school officials demonstrating that they have cojones. They should reopen the public schools five days a week and tell parents they can either send their kids every day or have them considered truant.

Owens concedes that the children who are in class are learning more than their stay-at-home counterparts, so in the interest of equity she seems to prefer that all students stay home.

Learning little.

Did I mention she’s a member of the school board?

Jessica Owens, a Virginia Beach School Board member who has repeatedly raised concerns about the disparities, stressed that the pandemic did not create the achievement gaps, but that the virtual learning divide could help worsen them.

Students who are back in school buildings, typically, are getting smaller class sizes and more individual help, she said. The fact that so many minority students chose to remain learning virtually has “separated the kids who are statistically more likely to struggle and are giving them less attention…”

She said it has been “very frustrating” to hear speaker after speaker at school board meetings — a largely white crowd — push for in-person learning, arguing it will most help the kids who are on the wrong end of the achievement gap.

“It almost does the opposite,’’ she said.


I’m sorry Ms. Owens doesn’t like listening to white parents. As a member of the school board it is actually her job to listen to anyone who takes the initiative to speak up at a meeting, regardless of their skin color.

Owens wants the school district to make things equal by pouring money and resources into virtual education.

Looks like she hasn’t talked to many teachers about just how difficult it is to teach both in-person and virtually at the same time. It also suggests that parents are going to be offered the virtual option forever. And it indicates a naive belief that somehow remote learning can be made to be as good as classroom instruction.

It can’t.

Kids need to know their teachers and instructors need to know their students. Children need to interact with classmates, engage in extra-curricular activities and play sports.

Staying at home and spending six hours a day in front of a computer is not only unhealthy and ineffective, but it’s leading to a sharp increase in mental illness, suicides and domestic abuse.

Instead of pouring money into virtual classes, Beach schools need to persuade African-American parents and others who are afraid to send their kids back to school to do just that.

That means counteracting the apocalyptic panic porn that’s been churned out by the media for the past year with the facts – the science, if you will – that kids are safe in school.

And someone needs to remind parents that their children will always learn best in a classroom with an actual teacher in the room. A Zoom call is no substitute.

Let’s talk about the biggest inequality in education right now. That’s the growing achievement chasm between public school kids who have been cheated out of a year of education and parochial and private school kids who have been back, five days a week since August.

I’m guessing some board members would like to shut down the private schools rather than imitate their success.