The COVID-19 pandemic was a crisis beyond most of our imaginations. In 2020 as school buildings closed, teachers started teaching online, students learned how to learn from home, and educational leaders managed a new kind of crisis. Principals had to figure out how to get meals to children in a socially distant fashion; how to provide access to the internet in areas that never had it before; and how to support families who didn’t have computers or tablets for their kids to use. In short, educators and their schools had to create all kinds of new policies, procedures, and practices in a relatively short amount of time.
But they didn’t do so alone – policies are never made in isolation. Responses to the pandemic were dynamic and social, as educators enacted policy in partnership with external organizations, families, and within their particular school districts.
In 2020-2021, colleagues and I worked alongside one elementary school and its non-profit partner to see how they managed and responded to the pandemic. We developed an ethnographic study to understand how policies were made and enacted over time and with others. We tracked the school’s policy responses, specifically the structures, resources, and discourses that shaped two policy areas: family-school communication, and access to remote learning. In this AERA Open article, we demonstrate that external partnerships can bring much needed resources to a crisis response, but existing structures and racialized discourses that exist within district and community contexts can hinder their best intentions for equitable policymaking. We concluded:
To “address the complex needs of the most vulnerable students,” it will take “grass-root associations” and myriad other actors “close to the field” (OECD, 2020, p. 19)…. School-community engagement has the power to shape crisis responses and policy enactment–but to fully understand such an interactive, negotiated process, one must understand schools’ external partners, their resources, structures, and discourses as well as their students, families, and communities.