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A day in the life of this Los Angeles family shows the challenges of a year of distance learning

The district this week reached a tentative deal with the teacher’s union to reopen elementary schools in mid-April in a limited form, and secondary schools will reopen in a modified way at the end of April, Juan Ramirez, vice president of the United Teachers Los Angeles, told CNN.

But for the Corbin family in south Los Angeles, the return to school may be too late for at least one of their daughters, they said.

Michelle and Kevin Corbin have three children, two of them in school: 16-year-old sophomore Keilah and 6-year-old Carson, who is in kindergarten.

Kevin Corbin is an events photographer, but that work vanished during the pandemic. Now, he’s working “frequently” for Postmates, a food-delivery company, he said. Michelle Corbin is the property manager for the apartment building they live in.

“In the beginning, it seemed OK with the kids being out of school. OK, yeah, well, let me take a leave of absence,” Michelle Corbin said. “But I couldn’t take a leave of absence because we still needed the income.”

“We’re winging it,” Kevin Corbin said. “We’re doing the best we can.”

Keilah Corbin, left, and her little sister Carson attend classes online.

Michelle Corbin’s office is in the apartment complex, and she’s up in the apartment to check on the kids when she can, then back down to her office.

“I know I need to work to take care of my kids, but I can’t allow work to have my kids suffer, so it’s like a struggle,” she said.

But with both parents working to make ends meet, Keilah is often left to help her little sister stay on track during online lessons, while she herself is trying to keep up with what her teacher is saying at the same time.

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During classes one morning this week, not a minute went by without Carson interrupting Keilah to ask for help.

“It’s a little complicated, because I’m not paying attention to school as much as I should be,” Keilah said. “Because I will have to look at her and help her, or tell her to stop doing something, or to ask her teacher questions and stuff like that.”

At one point, Carson was trying to follow along to the movements of a teacher and a song during a physical education class. Keilah, sitting next to her, is trying to concentrate on her class.

Then there are the usual technical problems, like the internet failing, and sometimes teachers don’t respond to her questions outside of class, Keilah and her mother said.

Keilah’s grades are suffering, and it’s to the point that her parents are worried she won’t make it to college.

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Michelle and Kevin met in college, and for this Black couple, education is a key to success for their and other Black children.

“I’m praying, I’m just praying that she graduates from high school, and that’s sad to feel that way, to not see college in the future, based off of just how this year has been,” Michelle Corbin said.

“I’m definitely worried about her future,” she said, “and more so because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Black and Latino communities bore the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic in the US with higher death and infection rates than White communities and they’re also the most affected by business closures and most economically fragile. Vaccine distribution hasn’t been equitable either. After more White residents got vaccinated in Los Angeles than people of color, the city has been playing catch up to vaccinate Black and Latino residents.

While other large school districts such as New York and Chicago have gone back to in-person learning in one form or another, the high number of Covid-19 cases in Los Angeles hasn’t allowed the option of opening safely in that district, Ramirez said.

“I think that being cautious and keeping safety as a priority of not just the educators but the students and the community, that made it take so long,” Ramirez said.

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“We’ve lost over 22,000 people here, and just in L.A.,” Ramirez said. “Those are the parents, parents and relatives, of some of our students. So that made it tough for us.” Los Angeles, he said, was in “a different situation than any other place in the United States.”

The district is still in the strictest tier in the state’s category of restrictions because of the number of Covid-19 cases and the number of tests with a positive coronavirus result.

But for the Corbins, it feels like the children have just been left to flounder for an entire year. There’s been no uniform curriculum throughout the district in the past year, as is usually the case, Kevin Corbin said.

“This school is doing this, that school is doing that. It was just, everybody’s just doing whatever they wanted, needed or could,” Kevin Corbin said.

“I don’t think there’s enough urgency toward the students. No Child Left Behind is just not true, right now,” he said.

“They’ve neglected every child listed in the (district) right now,” Kevin said.

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