By Liam Benedict
The past year has been hard on most Americans, with people losing their jobs, homes and even their loved ones. Among the many groups that have suffered are students. Education during COVID-19 has been a unique challenge, both for children and their parents.
I can never get back the final part of my senior year at high school that I spent online, and it seems that I may lose my first-year in-person experience of college because of online learning. Not only have I experienced this first hand, but my mother is also a local elementary school teacher, who I have watched try to adapt to these difficult circumstances. Seeing her struggle, I can vividly imagine the parents’ struggles who are trying to guide their own children through virtual learning.
Given that, the last thing any parent needs right now is to receive a letter from their child’s school, threatening arrest. But that’s exactly what happened to a father in the Bay Area when his 12-year-old son missed 90 minutes of Zoom Classes. This case perfectly expresses the challenges of online learning and the faults with California’s truancy system.
In Lafayette, California, Mark Mastrov, a business owner and father of four, received a letter from Stanley Middle School about his youngest child Merek, a seventh-grader. The letter was from an administrator at the school, listing the three specific 30 minute class periods that his son had missed and been unexcused. These events have led to Mastrov writing to lawmakers, demanding change.
Specifically, the letter said that under Education Code Section 48264, Merek was labeled a Truant of the state and that “An attendance supervisor, peace officer, school administrator or probation officer may arrest or assume temporary custody during school hours…” states the California Legislative Website.
Understandably, the father was quite upset by this, as I imagine any parent would be. Mastrov said that he spoke to the school about the upsetting letter, reportedly saying: “Are you going to come to arrest my son at my home or try to fine me for not getting him to his Zoom class on time perfectly every day?”
Interestingly enough, the school principal, Betsy Belmat, later explained that they were required to send the letter due to new state guidelines passed in the fall of 2020, which require districts to keep a closer eye on student attendance.
These codes were obviously made with online learning in mind.
Belmat also mentioned that a preliminary phone call should have been made to their household, giving the father a chance to clear the absences before the letter was sent. However, Mastrov says he never received that phone call. Those other parents in the school community who had received truancy letters also claimed they did not receive a phone call.
Regardless, these events all paint a clear picture of the digital learning state during COVID-19. It is important to keep students committed to learning during these troubling times, but there must be room for understanding. Spending seven hours a day on the computer doing school work is hard for anyone, especially children.
While the state may be well-intentioned with these new codes, they ultimately do not provide what is needed during these times. Even in my college courses, the professors have flexible class times and due dates because of COVID-19. Surely we can afford to be more forgiving towards a seventh-grader, going to school in a new format amid a pandemic?
Mastrov commented on this strange irony himself: “Obviously we’re in a pandemic and Gov. Newsom is trying to manage it, but if the state of California is really going to spend a lot of time focusing on arresting 12-year-old children for missing 90 minutes of school in 10 months, it’s ridiculous.”
I can’t help but agree with his assessment, and I imagine that most parents in America would as well. It serves as an essential reminder to all of the school administrators out there: Have patience towards those of us students, young and old, going through the trials of online schooling, and our families who are doing their best to get us through these troubling times.
Liam Benedict is a first-year English major from the small town of Galt, California. He is a writer and is planning on becoming a lawyer in the future.
Support our work – to become a sustaining at $5 – $10- $25 per month hit the link: