It’s a given that the prolonged school closures stemming from responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have negatively impacted students in myriad ways – including loss of learning. That loss is more severe in school districts that continue to keep their schools shuttered and students receiving instruction online.
Common sense and experience tell us kids learn better in the classroom than when stuck at home and having classes via Zoom. A study released at the end of 2020 estimated US students will likely suffer as much as nine months of learning loss. The impact is especially hard on students on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder.
That’s not politics, that’s reality.
However, Al Jabbar, the highly-political member of the Anaheim Union High School District Board of Education, vigorously disputed that reality at the most recent AUSHD Board meeting, held on February 4. Jabbar acknowledged “challenges” but said there’s been “no loss of learning.”
The AUSHD schools have been closed for in-person instruction since mid-March 2020,and they’ve been closed ever since, forcing students – and parents and teachers into the frustrating and depressing world of remote instruction and learning loss.
At the February 4 AUHSD Board meeting, staff gave a presentation on how the district has been using state and federal learning loss funds to mitigate learning loss stemming from the pandemic school closures. Given the topic, staff used the phrase “learning loss” quite a bit.
Too much, as it turned out, for Trustee Jabbar.
Following the presentation, Jabbar objected to staff using the phrase “learning loss.” Jabbar said the district should drop the phrase and exclusively use the more upbeat “Resilience and Recovery.”
Not only did Jabbar request banning the term “learning loss” but denied the idea that AUSHD students have suffered learning loss because of the 11-month long school closure has resulted in learning loss by AUSHD students.
“And as a district, I urged that we move away from this ‘learning loss’ word,” said Jabbar. “Our kids are not losing learning. Right? They’re doing some great work. Yes, there are a lot of challenges, those challenges we’re going to overcome. But let’s not perpetuate by talking about learning loss.”
Jabbar’s startling assertion prompted AUSHD parent Amy Zabala to comment, “How can you say there is no learning loss? There is a learning loss.”
“MOST students will disagree that they are learning with this model,” continued Zabala, who works for the Cypress School District. “Great for those students who are, but for the majority, this is not working.”
[Query: if there’s no learning loss at AUHSD, then how does talking about learning loss perpetuate learning loss?]
“I think that’s very important to change the mindset of folks,” said Jabbar, while pressing his request to ban use of the term “learning loss” when talking about learning loss.
Jabbar tried to minimize the damage inflicted by school closures: “I’ve spoken to some students who feel like, ‘Hey – look you know what we’re learning, yes we are having challenges’ – but those challenges are put forward not because of anything else it’s the system right.
“So let’s not blame our kids and brand them,” Jabbar continued – twisting complaints about the harm from ongoing AUHSD school closures into “blaming the kids.”
Channeling the Nietzschean spirit of “What doesn’t kill you,makes you stronger,” Jabbar tries to spin the COVID closure as ultimately a beneficial experience for AUSHD students. “They’re going to be one of the most resilient group of students who are going to be coming out of this COVID,” claimed Jabbar. “And that I know for sure.”
Jabbar is deputy chief of staff to Orange County Supervisor Doug Chaffee, prior to which he worked for the County health care agency and was active in the county employees union. Jabbar is Councilman Jose F. Moreno’s political consigliere and is considered likely to run for his council seat when Moreno is termed out in 2022.