While all of us are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, some communities are experiencing more trauma, disruption and uncertainty than others. The virus is focusing a brighter light on the deep-rooted disparities across communities in the physical toll the virus is taking on people, how the economic well-being of families is being impacted by the closing of countless businesses, and which workers are on the front lines as they staff essential businesses and services. It is also having profound impacts on students and their access to learning and support. And while the federal government has put the wheels in motion to send help to our schools, we need to assure those dollars go to where they are needed the most.

The disparate impact the virus is having should guide how we address the challenges the epidemic has amplified in our communities, especially in our education system. Before the current crisis, students with disabilities, those gaining English proficiency, students from low-income families, students experiencing homelessness and students of color were experiencing substantial opportunity and access gaps across many fronts. The current crisis has only made academic, social-emotional and other supports more difficult to access for students most in need of additional supports.

Washington state is expected to receive about $215 million to support K-12 education through the CARES Act over the coming weeks. Those funds are expected to be distributed to school districts to help meet the needs that have arisen from the current crisis. Given the depth of need across communities and limited resources, districts must thoughtfully use the newly available funds to address the growing need for those most impacted. Targeted supports for our students who have the most barriers to access their education must be the focus of the federal funds Washington is receiving.

In the midst of these truly exceptional times, districts are also engaging in the usual business of running a school system, including writing budgets for the next school year and making critical decisions about staffing and resource allocation. These decisions will be made in mid-May and could impact the use of federal stimulus funds, expected to arrive this summer. As districts are making these decisions, we encourage them to partner with community-based organizations working directly with families and students who are most impacted by this crisis and target resources to students most impacted. We need to be innovative and creative in ensuring students have the wraparound supports they need, and partnership with families and communities will be critical in centering student needs.

COVID-19 is indeed affecting us today and will continue to do so in the coming months and years ahead. And among those who will experience some of the longest lasting impacts are our students who are experiencing housing instability. They are losing access to counseling and support services, and other benefits that school provides. Let’s not make it even worse. Our students need us to make sure this historic time does not deepen the divides and disparities that already exist.

The challenge ahead is great, but we have an opportunity to deploy these resources in a way that puts the needs of students and communities first.