COVID, masks, ‘The Miracle,’ and bogus diplomas

‘The Pinellas School District continues to enact public policy that adversely impacts scholars of all ethnicities with deleterious consequences for Black and Brown attendees,’ said Goliath Davis, III, Ph.D.

BY GOLIATH J. DAVIS, III, PH.D., Contributor

ST. PETERSBURG — COVID-19, and especially the D variant, are viruses of opportunity. They seek hosts irrespective of political affiliation, religious orientation, wealth, or other social/cultural variables that divide us. However, public policy influences infection rates to the extent individuals in the lower socioeconomic strata tend to have underlying conditions conducive to higher rates of infection and mortality and problems with access to health care.

The Pinellas School District continues to enact public policy that adversely impacts scholars of all ethnicities with deleterious consequences for Black and Brown attendees. While the COVID virus, masks, “The Miracle,” and diplomas may appear unrelated, they all impact the achievement gap and, ultimately, the lives of Black and Brown scholars.

Can you imagine what might happen if Dr. Wobbly assembled a group of talented math coaches for a site visit to Lakewood Elementary to observe the “magic” that resulted in Lakewood’s ‘A’ grade? If they were impressed and overwhelmed, I am sure they would more than likely shout it from the mountain top.  But, if by chance they observed, for example, fifth-grade scholars working on the fundamentals of addition and subtraction, disappointment and anger may ensue. Especially given the esteem in which district administrators hold Lakewood.

The Pinellas District utilizes the methodology of restorative practice to resolve conflict between scholars and others. I wonder what would happen if the math coaches, by chance, expressed great dissatisfaction and disbelief?  Would Dr. Wobbly utilize restorative circles? Or if, by chance, the expressions of adulation were so intense, would a cadre of disciples emerge ready to spread the gospel of the Miracle at Lakewood?

Poor scholar performance at Lakewood Elementary and the other elementary schools in the Transformation Zone translates into poor performance in middle school and, ultimately, high school. Many Scholars who ultimately graduate high school do so all too often with concordance diplomas. The district boasts of improved graduation rates but fails to inform the scholars or the families of the difficulties associated with the concordance diplomas when seeking college admission and employment.

The initial COVID pandemic resulted in virtual learning that eroded learning gains for Black and Brown scholars and major setbacks for educators working in the Transformation Zone.  With the D variant infecting so many school-aged scholars and the district’s refusal to mandate masks as a preventative measure, the probability of another shutdown and the reinstatement of virtual learning looms large.

Board member Caprice Edmonds has tried unsuccessfully on two occasions to secure votes for a mandatory mask policy.  Despite an order by the governor, several districts across the state opted to implement mandatory mask policies to protect their scholars and staff.  On Aug. 27, the court overturned the governor’s order precluding mask mandates, noting Gov. DeSantis exceeded his authority.  Thus, there is no barrier to local authorities employing local rule.

One would assume the Pinellas District will immediately reverse course and implement a mandatory mask policy.  However, given schools are no longer permitted to send “ConnectEd” messages to parents informing them of COVID outbreaks at their schools, some wonder whether or not the district is attempting to downplay the virus and under-report its prevalence.  The district maintains cases are posted on a district dashboard for all to view. However, parents and educators alike report discrepancies.

I am not a conspiracy theorist. But one cannot ignore the impact district/board policies regarding graduation, masks, COVID, and a yet-to-be-stated commitment to replicate and sustain the Miracle at Lakewood has for Black and Brown scholars, their families, and the educators committed to their development and growth.

Goliath Davis is a former chief of police and deputy mayor for the City of St. Petersburg who actively advocates for education in Pinellas County.

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