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Should we send students with LEP and ASL services back to school?

August 17, 2020
kids running in a hallway

kids going back to school

Distance learning: It’s a phrase that causes educators, students and parents to cringe. It was hard on everyone and largely ineffective last Spring. Unfortunately, distance learning will be a reality everywhere – to varying degrees – this Fall.

With that in mind, how do we keep academically vulnerable students – children who have Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and those who need American Sign Language (ASL) services – from falling further behind?

The answer is that language services, as they were in the Spring, will be available in whatever mode of communication is best suited for the learning experience.

When the education system was thrown into chaos, professional interpreters and translators helped students and families by providing Video Remote Interpreting (VRI), CART services (Communication Access Real-Time Translation) and Document Translation services .

These services are essential for students who need LEP or ASL services, but are valuable to anyone working in an educational environment. The ultimate goal of language services is to help parents, teachers, administrators and all education workers succeed.

iTi will be ready to provide solutions regardless of the answer to the question …

Should we send students with LEP and ASL services back to school?

The answer to this question may not be cut and dried, but there has been more clarity regarding back-to-school plans overall. Students in grades K-12 have started returning to school for in-person instruction in parts of the country, while other states are opting for distance learning or hybrid learning models.

That said, anxiety over the process of resuming schooling is unlikely to dissipate, regardless of the format (in-person, distance learning? hybrid learning?)

How to best assist students who need LEP or ASL services should be at forefront of this conversation. Research has shown that in-person instruction is far more beneficial for all students, particularly those who need ESL and ASL services, however, most of the country is still struggling to contain the coronavirus.

Language services can help parents, faculty and education workers ease some of that back-to-school angst, regardless of the format schools and families choose.

How can iTi’s services help? By providing interpreters, among other things. Interpreters are key to bridging the communication gap and ensuring students who need services are not further disadvantaged by online learning (more on this later).

While it should come as no surprise that more distance learning is causing a panic among parents, it is particularly worrisome for parents of the nation’s five million ESL students, roughly 80 percent of whom are Hispanic (according to the National Education Association). Many of those students’ parents are asking ‘should I send my child back to school?’

A recent poll from Latino Decisions, a Latino political opinion research firm, showed that Latino families are “not equipped for distance learning in the Fall,” and 83 percent are concerned their children will fall behind due to remote learning.

Furthermore, if in-person instruction is limited, students who rely on reduced or free school meals could go hungry. That severely impacts Hispanic public school children, 45 percent of whom fall into the “high poverty” category as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Despite these well-founded concerns about distance learning, in-person instruction is unlikely to be the norm this Fall. The risk of reopening schools in the Fall with full, in-person instruction during a once-in-century pandemic is simply too great.

The role children play in transmitting the coronavirus is still largely unknown, and varies depending on the age of the child.* Never mind the fact that children are unlikely to keep their masks on the entire school-day and properly social distance.

In fact, an early-August NPR poll showed that 84 percent of teachers said they do not think they will be able to enforce social distancing guidelines. Those factors complicate the matter of safely re-opening schools, considering the sheer amount of people who work with school children (not to mention the chances that they bring the virus home).

statistic about students returning to school and during covid-19 pandemic

Thirty percent of teachers are 50 or older, according to the U.S. Department of Education, which puts them in the “high risk” category. NPR’s poll showed 77 percent of the teachers are worried about risking their health.

To that end, teachers across the country have staged protests over the rush to reopen schools, while others are reportedly choosing to retire.

Parents are in agreement with teachers on the issue of reopening schools. According to a separate NPR/Ipsos poll, 66 percent of parents think school should be primarily remote (this includes 62 percent of parents with children under 18).

The health risk to faculty, however, is far from the only concern with reopening schools in the Fall. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 25 percent of children have an underlying condition, like asthma, for example.

Speaking of the CDC, the nation’s top public health agency revised the …

CDC Opening School Guidelines

The debate over reopening schools in the Fall is so complex because of the amount of variables, and the lack of precedent. What comes to mind first is that the socialization and structure school provides is crucial for K-12 students, as the CDC opening school guidelines point out.

Dr. Jeffrey Jennings, a pediatrician for more than 20 years at Wallingford Pediatrics, in Connecticut who is also on the Pediatrics Ethics Committee at Yale University, agreed with that sentiment. (Dr. Jennings cited Connecticut’s low transmission rate in his reasoning and pointed out in-person schooling may not be possible elsewhere).

“In-school teaching is very important,” Dr. Jennings said. “If we can do it by controlling the risks as best we can, I think we should try. … The socialization is important and the limitations of the online learning capacity are enormous.”

The CDC also said that children are less likely than adults to transmit the coronavirus, which Dr. Jennings echoed saying “the story of this pandemic is that children have done much better than other people.”

 That is true, for the most part, but comes with a caveat. A recent study from the American Academy of Pediatrics showed children represented 9.1% of all cases as of August 6 (among states that report by age). However, the study also showed a 90% increase in pediatric COVID-19 cases in a month’s span (July 9- August 6), which coincides with students returning to classrooms.

Those trends, unfortunately, seem to dovetail with a late July study in South Korea indicated that children over 10 spread the virus as much as adults, while children under 10 spread it less.

“There did seem to be an important cut off there,” Dr. Jennings said.  “But there is far more to the story than that. The younger children had much higher rates of viral concentration, so there is still the consideration that they might indeed be higher spreaders.”

To Dr. Jennings’ point, other studies released after the South Korean report indicate that younger children do have the potential to spread the virus significantly, which again speak to how little we still know about their role in transmitting COVID-19.

That realization, combined with the following fact, might cause hesitation for some Latino families: The CDC acknowledged that there is a higher rate of cases among Hispanic/Latino children, which comprise the majority of U.S. students who use LEP services.

A recent poll from Latino Decisions, a Latino political opinion research firm, showed that Latino families are “not equipped for distance learning in the fall,” and 83 percent are concerned their children will fall behind due to remote learning.

Adding to the dilemma is the fact that the flu season could exacerbate problems in states that are still experiencing outbreaks.

School administrators appear to be conscious of this fact, as CNN reported at the end of July that 13 of the 15 biggest school districts in the country will start the school year with online-learning only. Los Angeles is one of those districts, while Chicago will offer remote learning through early November and likely switch to a hybrid plan at some point.

New York, on the other hand, has cleared schools to reopen for in-person instruction in the Fall. The decision of what mix of in-person, distance learning and hybrid learning is implemented will be left up to the districts, as is the case around the rest of the nation.

New York’s schooling outlook is a testament to the fact that the situation in the Northeast is much different than it was in March and April. Connecticut, for instance, has been a model for the entire country in terms of its pandemic response.

Yet even the Constitution State has carefully planned out its re-openings for fear of another spike in cases, which gained validity when Governor Ned Lamont announced in late July that new infections among 10-19-year-olds doubled in a week’s time.

The news of alarming spikes came almost one week after Connecticut school districts submitted their initial plans for reopening, which shows how fluid the situation is. Yet, Lamont has upped his push for in-person instruction recently.  The Governor told CBS’s “Face of the Nation” in early August that he didn’t want “a lost year,” in the wake of the revelation that 143,000 students didn’t log on for remote learning last March.

It remains to be seen how big of an issue participation will be this Fall, but Connecticut State Department of Education Commissioner reported in early August that 55% of school districts are planning for full in-person instruction. The rest will be utilizing a hybrid model. The state also issued another FAQ sheet to help parents understand procedures (parents can switch models mid-term if they choose).

“If Connecticut can’t get their kids back into the classroom safely, no state can,” Lamont said at a mid-August press conference.

 Part of the reason Lamont is pushing for in-person schooling is because of the elephant in the room, which is this: The economy will not fully recover until working parents can send their children back to school.

 That means parts of Connecticut, and many other areas in various states, are. …

Reopening Schools in the Fall

The biggest motivating factor behind reopening schools in the Fall is research has indicated distance learning last Spring severely impacted student development.

 The Oregon non-profit education research group the Northwest Evaluation Association(NWEA) issued a report that stated students will return to school in the Fall with about 70 percent of gains in reading compared to a typical school year, and less than 50 percent gains in math. The report states that the latter figure puts them nearly a year behind.

 Dr. Jennings was quick to point out that high-school students had far more trouble with distance learning than younger children.

 “There’s so much more that they can possibly do online, and yet surprisingly, our experience this past Spring was the high school kids frequently did worse than any other age group,” Dr. Jennings said, noting the lack of socialization and structure had a severely negative impact on teens.

 To that point, Hannah Watters, a high school student in Georgia interviewed by USA Today, said she decided to return (students at her school were given a choice) because online learning “was a mess and no one learned.”

 Students will return to school in the fall with about 70 percent of gains in reading compared to a typical school year, and less than 50 percent gains in math. The the latter figure puts them nearly a year behind (Northwest Evaluation Association).

Watters later became embroiled in the back-to-school debate when she was suspended by North Paulding High for posting a now-viral picture of crowded halls with unmasked students (the suspension was later lifted).

That incident aside, the main point Hannah Watters made is no one learned anything in the Spring. Imagine, then, how little students who need LEP and ASL services got out of online learning last Spring.

Imagine how much they would benefit from having access to interpreting and translating services like Video Remote Interpreting and CART (Communication Real-Time Access Translation) to help an already arduous process.

Comments like those from Hannah make it easy to see why parents of students who need LEP and ASL services, like all parents, are naturally concerned about reopening schools in the Fall. A survey from child-care service website Care.com shed light on how parents are responding to the conundrum of schooling during the coronavirus pandemic.

The survey showed 84 percent of parents are worried or uncomfortable about their child going back to school and 74 percent of them are not satisfied with or do not know their local government’s back-to-school plan.

A couple of other things that stood out from the Care.com survey: 66 percent of parents are worried their child will contract COVID-19, and 49 percent worry about their child not socially distancing.

Social distancing is critical, however, the social development a school environment promotes is vital as well. As the American Academy of Pediatrics states in its Guidance for School Re-entry:

“Schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being and provide our children and adolescents with academic instruction, social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition, physical/speech and mental health therapy, and opportunities for physical activity, among other benefits. Beyond supporting the educational development of children and adolescents, schools play a critical role in addressing racial and social inequity.”

Some of that racial and social inequality manifests itself in the inability to …

Access Distance Learning

The dirty secret exposed this past Spring is a large portion of students cannot access distance learning. Studies show Hispanic children are the most disadvantaged.

Only 52 percent of Hispanic kids have home internet access, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, compared to 66 percent of white children.

83 percent of latino families are concerned about distance learning

Those numbers are solely taking into account internet access, but the reality is high-speed internet is what we think of when we talk about the internet.

The picture is even more bleak in that regard. The Washington Post reported in mid-August that in 2018 nearly 17 million children lived in homes without high-speed internet access; more than 7 million did not have computers at home, according to a report by a coalition of civil rights and education groups that analyzed census data that year.

To make matters worse, a December report from the U.S. Department of Education stated few teachers assigned Limited English Proficient students to use digital learning resources outside of the classroom. The reason was in part because of concerns about lack of access to technology at home.

The inability to access distance learning is a common problem, but students who need LEP and ASL services have the added challenge of overcoming language barriers. Given the current circumstances, the uphill battle they are fighting has become infinitely harder.

iTi can help the roughly 37,000 students who need ESL services* in Connecticut navigate this difficult transition. Meanwhile,comprehensive data on Deaf and hard of hearing students doesn’t exist, but a 2011 study from JAMA Internal Medicine stated 13% of people over 12 (30 million people) have hearing loss in both ears.

The Deaf students among that group are at risk of being left behind due to the lack of, or greatly reduced, in-person instruction.

In-person instruction and social Interaction is crucial for all school children, but particularly for students with Limited English Proficiency (LEP); common sense and human nature dictate they are more apt to try speaking English around their peers.

Only 52 percent of Hispanic kids have home internet access, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, compared to 66 percent of white children.

Yet in comparison to their peers, students who need LEP services experienced distance learning much differently. Aside from the inability to access distance learning, another reason for that is because minorities are more likely to work in an essential job, which limits parents’ ability to help with schoolwork.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, only about 1-in-6 Hispanic workers are able to work remotely. Other parents might not be able to help with schoolwork for a different reason: Students fluent in English may have parents who have limited English proficiency, and thus cannot assist in the traditional way their peers’ parents help with schoolwork.

While schools are required to provide assistance, it cannot replicate in-person instruction from teachers.

Students who need ASL services, on the other hand, could not only face the same issues when it comes to access to distance learning, but they also have their own unique hurdles to overcome. In terms of the pandemic, the use of masks complicates students’ ability to read lips, for example.

quote on children spreading the coronavirus in south korea

In this case, iTi provides a solution for students, parents, teachers and administrators alike. That solution is Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART) service, which is tailor-made for the Deaf and hard of hearing.

CART essentially provides subtitles for live discussions; those subtitles are generally displayed on computers. In-person, the writer sits next to the student and transcribes. In a remote setting, the writer transcribes while listening to the instruction via a telephone voice over internet connection.

Why should schools incorporate CART for your students?  Aside from assuring your school is complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, CART is necessary because students who need ASL services rely on it.

Captioning is used by more than 60% of students with disabilities, according to the education publication Educause Review. In addition, ASL interpreters are notoriously hard to come by.

“In-school teaching is very important,” Dr. Jennings said. “If we can do it by controlling the risks as best we can, I think we should try. … The socialization is important and the limitations of the online learning capacity are enormous.”

Everything comes back to the ability to access distance learning in the end. The inequality in this regard can be summed up in the latest trend caused by the pandemic. Groups of parents have begun starting “pandemic pods.”

These arrangements involve parents pooling money to pay teachers to instruct at home in groups of 3-10 children. It goes without saying that families on the lower end of the income scale cannot afford the $25-$70 an hour that these teachers/tutors are reportedly commanding.

This “pandemic pod” phenomenon is fueled, perhaps in part, by a late May USA Today/Ipsos poll that showed one in five teachers will not return to their classrooms in the Fall.

The trend is further evidence of the economic gap in this country, but also has revealed what parents and teachers think about reopening schools in the Fall.

One issue not being discussed as much in terms of back-to-school plans, however, is …

How COVID-19 Affects Latinos in the United States

It is clear in-person instruction is critical, however, the demographics of COVID-19 cases reveal a stark reality for Latino families.

USA Today reported in June that Hispanic households have been affected by COVID-19 a third more than the rest of the population. Furthermore, Washington Post analyzed CDC data and reported in early August that one out of every five deaths among Latinos is due to COVID-19.

The grim reality, is as it relates to that stat, is that 80 percent of U.S. students who need ESL services are Hispanic, according to the National Education Association. Moreover, as previously mentioned, the CDC opening school guidelines noted that there is a higher percentage of COVID-19 cases among Hispanic children.

Thus, Hispanic families may be more hesitant to send their children back to school for fear of their kids contracting the virus and transmitting it to family members. A Pew Research Center poll found 65 percent of Latino adults say the coronavirus outbreak is a major threat to the health of the U.S. population, compared to less than half of the general public.

USA Today reported in June that Hispanic households have been affected by COVID-19 a third more than the rest of the population.

 Video Remote Interpreting is an invaluable tool for concerned families of children who need LEP and ASL services because it allows for body language and facial expressions as part of the interaction. After all, the consensus is that about 60-70 percent of communication is nonverbal.

At iTi, we are all about communication, solutions and teamwork, which is why we are presenting all angles of this complicated topic.

All of this analysis is designed to provide parents, teachers, administrators and everyone in the community the best information to make a decision for our children. These are unusual times and these decisions are impossibly difficult.

In this case, it is the duty of everyone to assure the vulnerable members of society – in this instance students who need LEP and ASL services – are impacted as little as possible by the unprecedented circumstances. Need help  getting through what will be the most unusual school year ever? At iTi, we can do that! Or at least we can do our part!

Let us hear your back-to-school thoughts and concerns in the comments below!

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