On Friday, March 13th, Irvine Unified School District Superintendent Terry Walker announced that all Irvine school sites will be closing until Monday, April 6th.
Students at my high school — Woodbridge High — met this news with ecstasy. As the sixth and final period of the day finished, nearly every student already knew, even though the school’s phone policy was supposed to prevent us from using our phones.
Walking out of my school, I heard more than a few students express glee over our now-canceled school attendance. “This is great,” one student said. I heard another student say, “Finally! We don’t have to go to school!”
Although I certainly understand that it’s human nature for teens to be excited about not going to classes, there seems to be a lack of understanding as to the potential repercussions of our non-necessary school attendance. For example, students without technology like laptops and printers readily available at home might be unable to complete homework assignments and attend our digital classes.
Too many students have no consideration for how these school closures will severely impact low-income families. Even here in Irvine, there are plenty of families who are struggling financially. According to U.S. News & World Report, nearly 20% of Woodbridge High students are economically disadvantaged, with 13% on the free-lunch program and 5% on the reduced-lunch program. These students rely on school for food; the parents rely on school to feed their children.
These same parents often also rely on school for childcare. This is especially true for families with young children who cannot be left at home alone. The school offers childcare from 8am until around 3pm for free, and on-site after-school programs can also provide child supervision up to 6pm.
Without school, many parents will struggle to provide food and childcare. For those families who live paycheck-to-paycheck, taking time off to watch children for three weeks is economically impossible.
Thankfully, IUSD has provided a response to most of this. Students without ready access to technology at home can go to their school to “rent out” Chromebooks and chargers for the next three weeks on Monday and Tuesday.
Various school sites in Irvine — Cadence Park School, Cypress Village Elementary, Northwood Elementary, Venado Middle, Oak Creek Elementary, South Lake Middle, Culverdale Elementary and University Elementary — will be offering free lunch to any interested IUSD student from Monday, March 16th until Friday, March 27th.
However, that still leaves the child care issue unresolved.
In the light of all that is going on right now, I have been struck by the mindless elation of high school students who seem to prove how the Irvine bubble confines our thought. We live in our own little world where most are affluent enough to afford three meals a day; we live in a community of surplus. Because most Irvine students are raised in such a situation, surrounded by fellow students who are also children of surplus, too often we fail to consider the other side of the economic spectrum.
I hope that as we begin to leave this community and step into the real world, we will learn to recognize our privilege and realize that the good fortune we experienced in our youth here in Irvine is not extended to most communities in our county, our state, or our country.
My personal hope is that one day we will look back and see how joyful our childhood in Irvine was, unburdened by the economic distress facing so many families today.