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COVID-19 Pandemic Impacts American Indian Students Significantly, Survey Finds

COVID-19 testing signs are placed at the PedEast crossing in San Ysidro, Augu...

Photo by Andi Dukleth

Above: COVID-19 testing signs are placed at the PedEast crossing in San Ysidro, August 12, 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it an educational inequity crisis in California that has had a particularly damaging effect on American Indian students, according to the results of a Cal State San Marcos-led survey.

The survey, overseen by the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center at CSUSM, found that one in four American Indian and Alaskan Native — also known as AIAN — students in California does not have access to a computer and reliable internet access.

The survey was conducted in May and June, with 97 tribes represented.

"The California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center was proud to take the lead on this survey," said Joely Proudfit, the center's director and chair of the American Indian studies department at CSUSM.

"COVID-19 has made visible the structural inequities that plague our education systems, and nowhere is that more evident than within our California AIAN student populations," she said. "We look forward to working with educators, policymakers, parents and advocates to address the inequities and better serve our AIAN K-12 students in California."

The center led the survey along with the nonprofit California Indian Education for All. Other partners were the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center and the San Diego County Office of Education.

The research team found that child care has been an ongoing challenge for families, with nearly half of those surveyed experiencing gaps.

Other key takeaways from the survey:

— 44% of respondents reported a learning difference or disability;

— 13% of respondents said they had no access to a specialist for their special needs child due to COVID-19, and 19% said they had only limited access;

— more than 40% of families surveyed said they rely on their school for meals;

— nearly one in 10 families said there is sometimes or often not enough to eat at home;

— 36% of students' psychological well-being has worsened due to COVID-19;

— nearly 70% of students are not getting enough physical exercise as a result of COVID-19; and

— 45% of families experienced a decrease in income during the pandemic.

"I want to thank all the organizations that participated in this review of COVID-19's path of destruction in our communities," said Assemblyman James C. Ramos, D-Highland, a lifelong resident of the San Manuel Indian Reservation in San Bernardino County and the first California American Indian elected to the state Assembly.

"Their findings revealed what we suspected — the disease was especially vicious among communities of color," he said. "In my own American Indian Alaska Native community, the mortality rate was almost two times that of white people. The study also begins the process of digging deeper into why these communities suffered disproportionally to their populations. It is critical that studies like these continue so that we can undertake the difficult work of remedying disparities."

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