AVONDALE, AZ — Latino students are the fastest-growing population in our school system. They're also some of the most at risk of being left behind by changes to the school system brought on the coronavirus pandemic.
The list goes on and on, from distance learning challenges to families having to decide between paying for internet services to access homework or buying food. That is the painful reality community leaders like Stephanie Parra say they're witnessing, "folks not having technology at home or access to WiFi those are just some of the things we're listening to."
Stephanie Parra is the executive director of All in for Education Arizona, a group whose mission is to ensure Arizona schools meet the needs of Latino students.
Parra says the government is failing so far to address those needs, "I ask that they listen. My hope is that they listen to the community's needs."
For some families, the digital divide, combined with the lack of attention to special needs education, is leaving their children behind.
"My daughter can't retain information, she's not computer savvy, and was diagnosed with ADHD," said Veronica Martinez, a valley mom whose main language is Spanish.
For Martinez, the struggle is even more when there's a language barrier.
"It's really difficult to help, I asked for copies since she can't understand technology yet, but she's managing," said Martinez.
She's now been advised by the school that it's better if her daughter repeats sixth grade.
"Isn't that enough with what our kids have to deal with?" said Martinez.
Veronica's daughter is currently enrolled at a Legacy Traditional School, a charter school in Avondale.
Veronica says she was notified via letter about the recommendation for her daughter, which according to the school, was based on her performance before school closures.
"After a review of their progress at the end of the third quarter of school, your child's cumulative percentage in foundational academic subjects is far below the 70 percent requirement to be promoted. As a result, we believe it is in their best interest to be retained for the 20-21 school year," the letter stated.
For Veronica, this is still a harsh decision.
"It's not fair, how do we know if she was capable of recovering her grades if school closures didn't happen?" said Martinez.
"If the student was falling behind, we should hope that the school was working as close as possible with the student to assure the student was succeeding," said Marcela Taracena, spokesperson for the ACLU of Arizona.
Taracena says in the middle of a health crisis, it's essential to also look at the well being of the students.
"Many families don't have access to the internet or rely on school lunches, so now it's the time for schools to take into consideration the students. them being able to feel some type of security during this time it's really, really important," said Taracena.
In a statement, Matthew Benson, spokesman for the Arizona Charter Schools Association said;
"Every individual public school must make its own decisions in terms of assessing student performance. However, the Arizona charter schools association recognizes these are unprecedented times, and echoes the guidance of Governor Ducey and Superintendent Hoffman that schools should be flexible and sympathetic to the unique challenges all of our students are facing while learning from home."
To listen to the needs of families like Veronica's, all in for education Arizona is collecting feedback from the community with plans to present a report this summer to legislators. you can find more information at: allinforeducationaz.com
Other community leaders are also calling for help.
The Arizona Alliance of Black School Educators is also asking Superintendent Hoffman and Governor Ducey to release support for minority students and to ensure every family has at least one computer and internet service for their family.
You can find some information on internet programs available on the Cox and Century website.
To report any education challenges in your community, email Liliana Soto at Liliana.Soto@abc15.com.