Sunday, July 14, 2024

The Cambridge Coalition for Public Education, a coalition of more than 400 parents and caregivers, has become aware of resolutions adopted by the Cambridge Education Association, including a vote of no confidence in the superintendent and the School Committee. We would like to express strong support for the committee and superintendent’s plan to reopen Cambridge Public Schools to a wider group of students March 1, with broader reopening as the semester continues.

Public schools are a cornerstone of the community. Remote schooling was an emergency measure taken under unprecedented circumstances when very little was understood about SARS-CoV-2. We now have a much better understanding of how to keep schools safe, and indeed, have months of data showing that schools are very safe. CPS’ gold standard infection control measures meet or exceed recommendations. Private schools in Cambridge have been safely open all year, while children in the district pay the price of school closings that only exacerbates inequities. Learning loss is greatest among low-income, Black and Hispanic students, and school closings widen economic and racial inequalities. The district has already experienced an unprecedented drop in enrollment this year (8 percent and 7 percent drops among elementary and high school students, respectively) with a significant drop among sheltered English learners. This is likely to accelerate the longer schools stay shut, further widening inequities.

The effect of closings on children’s mental health constitutes a public health emergency. Dozens of families, physicians and psychologists have offered heart-wrenching testimonies at School Committee meetings about suicidal ideation and severe psychiatric issues. There is growing evidence of dramatic increases in psychiatric distress and worsening behavioral health among children, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics and public health experts recommend that schools stay open. The the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 24 percent to 31 percent increases in mental-health related admissions to emergency rooms for children. In Massachusetts, The Associated Press reports many emergency rooms are seeing about “four times more children and teens in psychiatric crisis weekly than usual.”

Contrary to popular misinformation, Cambridge families who choose in-person school are not monolithic, but instead represent very diverse backgrounds, including 52 percent of families eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch, 47 percent of African-American families and 54 percent of Hispanic families (as of fall 2020, as seen in JK-Grade 3 data). As a public school district striving to be antiracist, it would be a dangerous failure to dismiss the needs of students of color, many of whom depend on in-person education. The reopening plan also guarantees a remote option for all families who require it and for educators in exceptional circumstances.

The superintendent and School Committee’s school reopening plan is a critical step in preventing further mental health harm and learning loss for students who need in-person school. We applaud the district’s significant investment in safety measures and we stand behind the leadership of Cambridge’s majority-minority School Committee and superintendent, who represent our community, in their efforts to expand in-person public education to every student who needs it.

The Cambridge Coalition for Public Education Steering Committee