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Focus on the student as Tampa Bay schools reopen after the holidays | Editorial
Closing in on the second full year of COVID-19 in the classroom, it’s important to remember what matters — and what doesn’t.
Let's keep the focus on what matters: the classroom and the students who learn there.
Let's keep the focus on what matters: the classroom and the students who learn there. [ SUSAN STOCKER / SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL | South Florida Sun Sentinel ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jan. 2

The student. That’s the reason public schools exist in Florida. And it’s the most basic, most important subject to keep in mind as Tampa Bay schools re-open this week after the holidays.

We are nearing the anniversary of two full years of coping with COVID-19 in the classroom, and it’s easy to forget all that has transpired, from remote instruction, to missed graduations, to hybrid classrooms, to masks, vaccinations and testing (both of students’ knowledge and their infection status). But it’s important not to let the politics of federal vs. state vs. local vs. parental control obscure what should be the center of every discussion: our students and their education. That sharp focus, in turn, must be on the individual classroom. The teacher. And each student.

As the omicron variant swells to its likely peak sometime in the next several weeks, it’s vital to see this from a student’s perspective and life horizon. Third grade, for example, is a crucial year in the education of a young Floridian. A student who isn’t a capable reader by the end of third grade can face substantial roadblocks that hinder her progress her whole life. For an adult, the pandemic has been trying. For that third-grader, it has affected her entire education. She was barely midway through first grade when school was disrupted by the pandemic. Nothing has been “normal” in her schooling. So as this week begins, what are the federal, state and local school authorities doing to make sure she is reading well by the time school adjourns for the summer? That young student, after all, has only one shot at third grade.

People can fight about masks, vaccines, equity, critical race theory or any other issues that seem to concern adults more than the children in the classroom. But are people directing that same energy to simply making sure that those third-graders can read? And that students in all other grades are getting the education they need and deserve? That should be the emphasis whether there is a pandemic or not, whether there is a “culture war” or not. Amid all the tumult of the past two years, too many have forgotten that education occurs in a single classroom between one teacher and her students. Give the teachers freedom to teach, and the students room to learn.

The pandemic will eventually pass, and the current hot issues in education will cool down, and something else will take their place. But the need to be able to read is constant, and decades after the pandemic has faded away, the student who didn’t read proficiently in third grade could still be suffering from that deficit. That fact should be front and center in discussions about education in Florida.

The ability to read and to reason matters — for everyone. And it is in society’s interest to have a literate and numerate cohort of citizens rising up to ensure the nation’s future. After all, America will soon be in their hands. It’s up to the rest of us to make sure those young citizens are equipped to take over. That starts this week when schools re-open.

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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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