One of the groups most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic was students, particularly those in high school. According to figures from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, minority students, especially Latinos, have the lowest high school graduation rates in the state. Is this something that only concerns families, or do school authorities have some responsibility? Are schools failing their Latino students?
For the 2020-2021 school year, the high school graduation rate for all North Carolina students was 87.6%. But the lowest rate was in Latino students, with 81.7%. An even lower graduation rate was seen among students with limited English proficiency, 71.4%, who are generally immigrants. Every school system experiences a similar situation.
Let's see an example. In 2021, after one year of online classes, 85% of Latino students in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) did not meet the reading score considered a key factor in their future academic success, and 87% were below that score in math. Why is this happening?
Very few staff interact with Latinos
Beyond the difficulties of online education during the pandemic, there are other factors that are equally worrying, such as the lack of staff and teachers who speak Spanish. Our young people do not have educational figures that reflect their identity, and many families feel a barrier between them and their children's schools.
In North Carolina, although 19% of students are Latino, only 2% of teachers are from this community.
Another example, in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), despite the fact that more than half (58.5%) of the students are Latino, only 2.2% of the teachers and 0.6% of the school principals are.
The few Spanish-speaking staff in a school feel overwhelmed by the amount of extra work they must do, to meet the enormous demand for interaction that Latino families need.
Where are the plans?
With these problems in mind, several groups of parents and activists pressured the authorities to implement solutions, however, the response has been quite lukewarm. Let's see a case:
In the middle of last year, the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners voted to approve their budget, but withheld $56 million in CMS funding. The board said it would not release the money until a plan for academic improvement and racial integration in schools is presented. After a time of negotiations, and despite the fact that a new plan never came, the funds were delivered.
Nearly a year later, the academic performance problems continued, and eventually the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board voted to terminate the contract of Superintendent Earnest Winston, who received a severance of more than half a million dollars.
Latino students are the future of schools
During the pandemic, thousands of students across the state dropped out of public schools, but one group remained constant: Latino students. It is not acceptable that an educational system, whose future survival basically depends on the Latino community, leaves this group in the background.
This year we have midterm elections, where various school board positions will be contested throughout the state. This is an opportunity to engage candidates to stop ignoring Latinos, to come up with real, practical solutions to help our young people get the quality education they so desperately need.