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Press Release: High School Students Across CA Talk School Closures, Impact And Needs In The Wake Of The Coronavirus

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, March 18th, 2020
MEDIA CONTACT: Hannah Esqueda Freeman / Hannah@caljustice.org / 559-367-7158

The challenges created by the Coronavirus crisis are making painfully clear the realities that we have always known: working-class families and students of color are the most impacted by shifts to the economy, our schools and health care systems. With limited resources, these families are often one small crisis or emergency away from a dire situation.

Young people are inheriting a California that is one of the wealthiest states in the United States but only for those who can afford it. Despite our state’s vast material wealth, Coronavirus has illuminated how easily overwhelmed and under-resourced our city and county infrastructures are in a time where crises are becoming commonplace. More importantly it has highlighted how essential public institutions like schools are, and the alarming need to invest in our local community and school infrastructures to provide the most basic of needs to our families and young people across the state.

Young people are navigating this new reality alongside their families who are confronted with terrible consequences and impossible choices; layoffs, backed up rent and mortgages, figuring out child care and choosing to put food on the table versus personal health.

“At home things have been very tense,” says Lilliana Ayala, an 11th grader at Cabrillo High School at Long Beach Unified School District.
“When everyone found out that schools were shutting down due to the coronavirus, it led to conversations about how we were going to pay the bills on time. My parents immediately started asking my siblings, and I for money, so we were not struggling as much to pay the bills.”

According to NPR, 1 in 5 households have lost work, and even more will be relying on unemployment and social services.

“My mom has been getting less work than usual because of the virus. My older sister has been put on an unpaid break because the restaurant she works at cannot afford to keep her and some other workers. She has a 3-year-old child and she is worried that she won’t be able to pay her rent for the next month,” says Julisa Gomez Reyes, who is 16, and a student at Independence High School in San Jose.

School closures mean students lose learning, safe spaces and critical resources whilst their working families juggle childcare needs, layoffs, limited access to information, inability to afford rent or mortgage payments and so much more. Additionally, many Asian Pacific Islander students like Hanh Dang, a Vietnamese student at Oakland High are witnessing racial discrimination against her community in Oakland and online.

“I feel really bad about the racial assumptions. This isn’t a virus targeting Asians only, it’s impacting everybody,” dang says. she continued, “it’s not fair, and it’s causing harm to the asian pacific islander community”.

Other students like Deshae Lee, a senior at McLane High School at Fresno Unified School District, are providing childcare for her mother, while her mother continues to work. As a senior who’s getting ready for the next step in life — college — she wonders about how she will apply to scholarships.

“My counselor had given me a scholarship to apply for, but I need my transcripts and stuff which I don’t have, and I need the counselor’s approval and other school resources,” says Deshae.

At this moment, a deepening crisis looms ahead for working class families and youth. School closures in California are now projected to last through the end of the school year. Young people are the voices and leaders we need to drive solutions that put young people, families, and their futures first to ensure that heavily impacted communities will survive this crisis.

In the interim, our team and leaders have started a list of demands for School Leadership, Local Electeds, and Governor Gavin Newsom.

For students right now:
1. Extending the deadlines and providing support for students apply FASFA, Scholarships, and all the AP exams needed to take their next step in life.

Immediate:

1. Providing rent, mortgage, and utility bills forgiveness for a minimum of 3 months so families can focus on the welfare of their parents, grandparents, children, and family.
2. Emergency unemployment and food Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for young people and families that includes a living wage and paid sick leave for all workers.
3. Significantly increase information sharing about how to protect ourselves and our families from the Coronavirus – to protect oneself and their families from the virus that is accurate and timely.
4. STOP ICE RAIDS AND DEPORTATIONS immediately.
5. We ASK THE GOVERNOR TO ENDORSE the Schools and Communities First Initiative on this November ballot to ensure that corporations like Chevron, Disneyland pay their fair share to invest in schools, and critical local services like public health, affordable housing, and accessible public transportation.

Looking forward:

As we have deeper conversations with youth members and leaders, and families, we will share an initial set of demands and requests directly from students and families in the wake of schools shutting down for the semester.

More about Californians for Justice:
At Californians for Justice, we believe young people are the leaders we need to create the healthy, just and thriving schools all of our communities deserve. Founded in 1996, we work with students, parents and educators in Long Beach, Oakland, San Jose and Fresno.

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