Tag Archives: Anna Almendrala

Online Classes Divide Haves & Have Nots

It’s Tuesday morning, and teacher Tamya Daly has her online class playing an alphabet game. The students are writing quickly and intently, with occasional whoops of excitement, on the little whiteboards she dropped off at their homes the day before along with coloring books, markers, Silly Putty and other learning props — all of which she created or paid for with her own money.

Two of the seven children in her combined third and fifth grade class weren’t home when Daly came by with the gift bags. One of the two managed to find her own writing tablet, thanks to an older brother, but the other can’t find a piece of paper in her dad’s house. She sits quietly watching her classmates on Zoom for half an hour while Daly tries futilely to get the father’s attention. Maybe the student is wearing earphones; maybe the father is out of the room.

As children head back to school online across California and much of the nation, some of the disparities that plague education are growing wider. Instead of attending the same school with similar access to supplies and teacher time, children are directly dependent on their home resources, from Wi-Fi and computers to study space and parental guidance. Parents who work, are poor or have less education are at a disadvantage, as are their kids.

Daly teaches elementary students with special needs. The children in her class, who have a variety of diagnoses and intellectual disabilities, are at even higher risk — they can’t work independently and need more hands-on instruction. “The more they’re not getting those kinds of accommodations, the further they’re going to fall behind,” said Allison Gandhi, a managing director in special education at the nonprofit American Institutes for Research.

Educators and families fear devastating long-term consequences from COVID-19 for the nearly 800,000 California children who received special education services. So, in early August, the state announced it was developing a waiver application process for schools, even in COVID-plagued counties, that want to bring small groups of these students back for in-person education.

“There are simply kids that will never, ever have that quality learning that we all desire to advance online, no matter what kind of support we provide, even if we individualize it,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at an Aug. 14 news conference.

Online learning is interfering with the students’ individualized education programs, or IEPs — legal agreements among families, school districts and specialists that set academic and behavioral goals for students and the services they’re entitled to.

The gap in online learning experience is sharply visible in Daly’s class, and the parents’ role is crucial. For parents who don’t have to work, distance learning may be tense and time-consuming, but it becomes part of a daily routine to be endured until the pandemic ebbs. For others, schooling is an unworkable nightmare burdening parents already stretched to their limits.

School started Aug. 12. By day five, Daly knew which children had the luxury of a stay-at-home parent and which were being supervised by older siblings. She knew which students struggled to get online on time every day — a new state requirement for all virtual learners — and which ones needed reminding to eat breakfast before class started.

She also knew, from last spring, that most of the parents couldn’t print the worksheets she had uploaded to Google Classroom. Their printers were broken, or printer ink cost too much, or they didn’t have printers. For this semester, she set up a time every Thursday for parents to drive by the school and pick up packets for the following week.

Daly works at Emery Park Elementary School in Alhambra, east of downtown Los Angeles, where two-thirds of the students qualified last year for free or reduced-price school meals. The school has loaned about 80% of the 434 students Chromebooks because they didn’t have computers at home, said principal Jeremy Infranca.

Like most schools in California, Emery Park started the school year in virtual classrooms — the safest option for a state with a stubbornly persistent infection rate. The Alhambra school district has yet to decide whether to apply for a waiver to bring students with special needs back on campus. Infranca and Daly would like to — if they can secure COVID-19 protective gear for themselves and their students, and if families feel comfortable with it.

In the meantime, Daly is doing her best to accommodate her families, which isn’t easy. Parents have told her to limit live group instruction to an hour a day, so as not to interfere with child care schedules or the laptop needs of other children in the household. To make up for the reduced time, Daly records several 15- to 30-minute videos explaining the work to be done and plans to schedule an individual session with each child once a week.

“I choose to be positive about this experience, and I choose to communicate and do my best to reach out to the students and connect with parents and family members,” said Daly. “We just need to be proactive, and also a little patient.”

Families have different opinions about whether to return their kids to the schoolhouse. It often depends more on a family’s desperation over child care than consideration of COVID-19 risks.

Cat Lee, 44, was nervous at first when she realized she had to take on the bulk of hands-on teaching for her son, Jacob, a fifth grader in Daly’s class.

“I wondered, would I be able to teach him as well, and would he be able to learn it?” she said.

Lee is a stay-at-home mom, and so far she has been able to stick to the schedule Daly lays out. She’s there with Jacob at every Zoom session and logs onto the Seesaw app to go through all the assignments. She praised Daly for her curriculum, which she felt was better and easier to teach than what the family received back in March. But she had reservations about her son’s new normal.

“It’s really slowing down his learning; plus, he doesn’t interact with kids anymore,” said Lee.

Still, if she had the chance to send Jacob for in-person learning now, Lee wouldn’t take it. She has concerns about their immune systems — Lee had a kidney transplant five years ago, and Jacob was born at just 27 weeks’ gestation — and is holding out for a COVID vaccine before allowing Jacob to resume his normal activities.

Not that she doesn’t have doubts.

“My fear is that he’s going to be home for so long, he’ll be so used to it and he won’t want to go back to school,” she said.

Danielle Musquiz, a 32-year-old mother with five elementary school-aged boys — four adopted from a relative — would favor a return to school. She gets three or four hours of sleep each night because of her 90-hour workweek with two jobs, as a home aide and a cashier at a regional park.

Four of her sons receive special education services, including an adopted middle child who is in Daly’s class and has cognitive delays linked to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The children, crowded together at the dining room table or in the living room, listen to their classes with earphones to keep from disturbing one another, which means she can’t hear a teacher calling out to her from the screen.

The four kids have individual education programs, but it’s hard for Musquiz to oversee them “with the minimal amount of time I have at home,” she said. She’s feeling overwhelmed by having to coordinate, supervise and respond to teachers, counselors and therapists for each child.

Musquiz is working longer hours than before the pandemic, and she picks up shifts at the park when the boys’ former stepfather takes them for the weekend.

“I’m slowly starting to say — and I know that this sounds bad — I don’t care anymore about the kids’ schooling,” Musquiz laughed nervously. “I feel like it’s chaos, and I’m drowning.”

To help with child care, her mother lives with the family Monday through Thursday, and her sons spend Thursday nights at her sister’s house. On Fridays, nine kids are all streaming their classes online from that house. On a recent Friday, the Wi-Fi broke, prompting a call from the school of one of her sons asking why he had left class early.

If she had the opportunity, Musquiz would send her children back to in-person learning in a heartbeat.

“None of my kids are really going to learn what they need to,” said Musquiz. “They need hands-on, they need interaction, they need motivation, and these classes are not doing that for them.”


This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Racism Is The New Public Health Crisis

From Boston to San Bernardino, California, communities across the U.S. are declaring racism a public health crisis.

Fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact on communities of color, as well as the killing of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police, cities and counties are calling for more funding for health care and other public services, sometimes at the expense of the police budget.

It’s unclear whether the public health crisis declarations, which are mostly symbolic, will result in more money for programs that address health disparities rooted in racism. But officials in a few communities that made the declaration last year say it helped them anticipate the COVID-19 pandemic. Some say the new perspective could expand the role of public health officials in local government, especially when it comes to reducing police brutality against Black and Latino residents.

The declarations provide officials a chance to decide “whether they are or are not going to be the chief health strategists in their community,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

“I’ve had a firm view [that] what hurts people or kills people is mine,” said Benjamin, a former state health officer in Maryland. “I may not have the authority to change it all by myself, but by being proactive, I can do something about that.”

While health officials have long recognized the impact of racial disparities on health, the surge of public support for the Black Lives Matter movement is spurring calls to move from talk to financial action.

In Boston, Mayor Martin J. Walsh declared racism a public health crisis on June 12and a few days later submitted a budget that transferred 20% of the Boston Police Department’s overtime budget — $12 million — to services like public and mental health, housing and homelessness programs. The budget must be approved by the City Council.

In California, the San Bernardino County board on Tuesday unanimously adopted a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. The board was spurred by a community coalition that is pushing mental health and substance abuse treatment as alternatives to incarceration. The coalition wants to remove police from schools and reduce the use of a gang database they say is flawed and unfairly affects the Black community.

The city of Columbus and Franklin County, Ohio, made similar declarations in June and May, respectively, while Ingham County, Michigan, passed a resolution June 9. All three mention the coronavirus pandemic’s disproportionate toll on minority residents.

Those localities follow in the footsteps of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, which last year became the first jurisdiction in the country to declare racism a public health crisis, citing infant and maternal mortality rates among Blacks. The county’s focus on the issue primed officials to look for racial disparities in COVID-19, said Nicole Brookshire, executive director of the county’s Office on African American Affairs.

Milwaukee County was training employees in racial equity and had launched a long-term plan to reduce disparities in health when the pandemic hit. “It was right on our radar to know that having critical pieces of data would help shape what the story was,” said Brookshire.

She credits this focus for the county’s speedy publication of information showing that Black residents were becoming infected with and dying of COVID-19 at disproportionate rates.

Using data to tell the story of racial disparities “was ingrained” in staff, she said.

On March 27, the county launched an online dashboard containing race and ethnicity data for COVID-19 cases and began to reach out to minority communitieswith culturally relevant messaging about stay-at-home and social distancing measures. Los Angeles County and New York City did not publish their first racial disparity data until nearly two weeks later.

Declaring racism a public health crisis could motivate health officials to demand a seat at the table when municipalities make policing decisions, and eventually lead to greater spending on services for minorities, some public health experts say.

The public is pressuring officials to acknowledge that racism shortens lives, said Natalia Linos, executive director of Harvard’s Center for Health and Human Rights. Police are 2½ times as likely to kill a Black man as a white man, and research has shown that such deaths have ripple effects on mental health in the wider Black community, she said.

“Police brutality is racism and it kills immediately,” Linos said. “But racism also kills quietly and insidiously in terms of the higher rates of infant mortality, maternal mortality and higher rates of chronic diseases.”

The public health declarations, while symbolic, could help governments see policing in a new light, Linos said. If they treated police-involved killings the way they did COVID-19, health departments would get an automatic notification every time someone died in custody, she said. Currently, no official database tracks these deaths, although news outlets like The Washington Post and The Guardian do.

Reliable data would allow local governments to examine how many homeless or mentally ill people would be better served by social or public health workers than armed police, said Linos.

“Even symbolic declarations are important, especially if they’re accurately capturing public opinion,” said Linos, who is running to represent the 4th Congressional District of Massachusetts on a platform of health and equity. “They’re important for communities to feel like they’re being listened to, and they’re important as a way to begin conversations around budgeting and concrete steps.”

Derrell Slaughter, a district commissioner in Ingham County, Michigan, said he hopes his county’s declaration will lead to more funding for social and mental health as opposed to additional policing. Slaughter and his colleagues are attempting to create an advisory committee, with community participation, to make budget and policy recommendations to that end, he said.

Columbus City Council members coincidentally declared racism a public health crisis on May 25, the day Floyd died in Minneapolis. Four months earlier, the mayor had asked health commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts for recommendations to address health issues that stem from racism.

The recent protests against police brutality have made Roberts realize that public health officials need to take part in discussions about crowd control tactics like tear gas, pepper spray and wooden bullets, she said. However, she has reservations about giving the appearance that her office sanctions their use.

“That definitely is one of the cons,” she said, “but I think it’s better than not being there at all.”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Hate Unmasked In America

“You are the most selfish f—ing people on the planet.”

I jerked my head to the left, where I saw a neighbor glaring at us from his driveway while unloading groceries from his trunk.

“Where’s your f—ing mask?” he said. “Unbelievable.”

 

Marigold Ganz, 3, wore this mask for five minutes outside and then threw it away. We haven’t been able to find it since. In the background is her grandfather, Jovit Almendrala, trying his own mask out for the first time. (Courtesy of Anna Almendrala)

My jaw dropped. I had just walked three blocks home with my toddler and my dad in our leafy, mostly empty Los Angeles neighborhood because my kid had thrown a tantrum in the car.

And we had forgotten our masks. Four days earlier, Mayor Eric Garcetti had ordered protective face coverings anytime we left home, not just when we entered essential businesses.

I pointed out my house to the neighbor to explain how close we were, just a few doors down from him. He cut me off.

“I don’t give a f– where you live, and I don’t give a f– what your reason is.”

Then my dad jumped in. “Sorry, sir, we forgot our masks. I’m sorry, sir.”

Still, the man didn’t soften.

“You should be sorry. And you should make her be sorry, too,” he gestured toward me. After a few more agonizing seconds, he dismissed us.

Our neighbor’s mask, by the way? It was off his face, hanging loosely around his neck. All the better to shout at us.

As a health care reporter, I had covered America’s evolution on masks as the coronavirus spread across the globe. Back in January, I wrote an article about why Chinese immigrants insisted on wearing surgical and construction masks in the U.S., even though it went against official health recommendations at the time. In February, I wrote about Asian families in California clashing with schools over whether their children should be allowed to wear masks in class.

At that time, Asian people wearing masks were targets for verbal and physical abuse. Attackers saw masks on Asian faces as signs of disease and invasion; people were punched and kicked, harassed on public transit, bullied at school and worse.

Now, of course, masks are the norm. And they’ve become more than just personal protection; they are symbols of courtesy and scientific buy-in. They have, to some extent, also become political signifiers. In a new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 70% of Democrats said they wear a protective mask “every time” they leave their house, versus 37% of Republicans. (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, is an editorially independent program of KFF.)

After our verbal beatdown, my dad and I walked home stone-faced, and then retreated to our separate rooms to nurse our wounds.

I have no idea if the neighbor’s comments had a racist undertone. But it felt like the times in my childhood, first in New Zealand, then in a Bay Area suburb, when I had seen my Philippines-born parents, stunned and silent, get dressed down or humiliated by angry, callous white people. Now it was my 3-year-old daughter’s turn to see me dumbstruck. As I began telling my husband the story, I started crying so hard that I got a headache.

After my tears came reflection, and an attempt at empathy.

My neighbor was obviously scared. He was older, and potentially more medically vulnerable. His trunk had been packed with overstuffed shopping bags ― probably enough food for weeks, to avoid leaving his house.

He had just come from the grocery store, an enclosed space full of things and people that could potentially infect him. I understand the stress that comes with shopping during the pandemic.

Like many of us, my neighbor could be struggling with how to live in mortal fear of the coronavirus. And for him, at least that morning, that struggle got the better of him.

Later that day, I wrote the neighbor a card introducing ourselves. I apologized for making him feel unsafe and acknowledged that he was right about the masks. But I also said he had unfairly used us as a target for his fear and frustration, and I told him I was shocked and saddened he would treat a neighbor with so much hate. I haven’t heard back from him.

My dad spent the rest of that morning praying that the man didn’t get the coronavirus — lest he blame us and all Asians, forever.

Since that day, no one in my family has left the house without a mask on their face, and I’m anxious to train my daughter to wear one, although she resists it the way she has refused hats and headbands in the past.

We can’t stop noticing that most other exercisers and dog-walkers in our neighborhood ― all white ― fly past us without them. They don’t seem to worry about getting caught on the wrong side of whatever America happens to believe about masks on any given day. But my family can’t risk it.


This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Images (Courtesy of Anna Almendrala)