Guest Post: Laura Cassidy, Louisiana Key Academy
The costs of COVID-19 are staggering. Apart from the great loss of life caused by the pandemic, one of the most immediately felt consequences of the virus has been the learning loss caused by kids not having the access to education they need. Even with all the challenges, however, there are ways to protect our students, and to mitigate the educational and health risks of Covid.
Louisiana Key Academy (LKA), a year round school of 440 dyslexic students in 1st-8th grades, offered in class instruction for 11 months from July 2020 to June 2021. Our doors opened again in August 2021 and the doors of LKA have remained open through today. These 440 students have moderate to severe dyslexia and have all failed a class, a grade, or repeated a grade. LKA students, like many students, need to be in the classroom.
It’s not rocket science: listen to the science! At LKA, we followed Covid protocols, as well as the latest scientific practices regarding student health and how to work specifically with students that have dyslexia. We were able to keep our doors open last year by coordinating with local health providers to offer weekly saliva testing for Covid. The school upgraded the ventilation system and followed CDC protocols. The staff at LKA have been encouraged to get the vaccine and boosters, and are committed to educating our students, understanding that all time in the classroom is precious.
Covid’s omicron strain is proving to be highly transmissible but less virulent. That means it is easy to get the virus if precautions are not taken, but that severe illness or death is much less likely, especially if people are fully vaccinated and boosted. According to the New York State Department of Health, the CDC estimates that more than 90% of current cases in the New York area are associated with omicron. That’s at least hopeful news for all students and teachers, as we know every day with a teacher is an opportunity to change the life of a child. LKA, like many other public schools in Louisiana and across the country, is able to offer weekly testing on a voluntary basis. Federal assistance funds allowed LKA to begin to administer PCR tests on January 5 so school could begin the next day. We were prepared and we used the time before students needed to return to get ready. We’re still scratching our heads at why others around the country could not do the same. 83% of LKA’s students and employees take voluntary tests weekly.
On top of that, we didn’t need a union negotiation to encourage students and staff to wear 3-ply masks. Unlike what’s happening in Chicago, no one had to demand that we order KF94 masks for the teachers. We just did it. The school will also practice Test to Stay (TTS) as prescribed by the CDC. It involves “contact tracing and serial testing to allow school-associated close contacts who are not fully vaccinated to continue in-person learning during their quarantine period.”
There are things that leaders and educators can do when they have the flexibility and freedom to serve students. The lack of such autonomy in traditional public education is at the root of why hundreds of thousands of children have lost out on a vital education throughout COVID-19, and even just this past 10 days in cities like Chicago. It’s also what allows them to succeed in advancing student achievement, no matter what external social challenges students are facing.
LKA is in its 9th year and will add a 2nd school in August 2022. It is a model built on the science of dyslexia and could be replicated across America. It is tuition free and racially and economically diverse. LKA teachers are trained for two 2 years so they can make informed instructional decisions based on classroom performance. Students are taught to read and their self-esteem is restored when they understand the reasons for their academic struggles are not intellectual. Today, our school doors are open and all are working hard to follow the science so teachers and children are safe in the classroom and dyslexic children are taught in an evidence based program. Our affiliate organization, the Dyslexia Resource Center (DRC), works with teachers, organizations, and schools across the country to bring this model to all dyslexic students, even amidst the pandemic. Many dyslexic students are unaware of their challenges, and the pandemic has been extremely tough for those not identified and struggling to learn. Consider a change if your school is not open or if your struggling dyslexic reader is not getting an excellent education. The DRC can work with teachers and schools to train teachers and deliver an excellent education for dyslexic children – no excuses!