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 Survey Results on the Impact of COVID-19 on American Indian K-12 Students in California Released

The COVID-19 crisis has brought with it an educational inequity crisis in the United States and California. Data from a recent survey assesses American Indian student academic needs during the COVID-19 pandemic and results show how broad the pandemic's impact on education for this community might continue to be. The survey was led by the nonprofits California Indian Education for All California (CIEFA) and the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center (CICSC), in partnership with the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center (CIMCC) and the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE).

A CIEFA survey found that one in four American Indian and Alaskan Native (AIAN) students in California does not have access to a computer and reliable internet access.

"Advocacy is critical because 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, said Nicole Myers-Lim, director of The California Indian Museum and Cultural Center.

CIEFA research team found that childcare has been an ongoing challenge for families with nearly half of all those surveyed experiencing gaps.

The summary findings were based on an online survey in an effort to support AIAN students in California who have been historically underserved. The survey was conducted from May to June 2020 and represented 97 Tribes. The research study received Instructional Review Board (IRB) approval in accordance with the Cal State San Marcos IRB procedures for research involving human subjects.

The survey underscored that extensive research is needed to determine the rate of learning disabilities and differences throughout Indian Country.

Over all, one in eight students receives special education services in the state of California. Additional data is needed specific to AIAN students. During the pandemic, it is critical that AIAN students and parents have increased access to and resources for assessment, diagnosis, and distance learning support if we are going to effectively work to counteract these negative outcomes.

  • The survey found that 44% of respondents reported a learning difference or disability.
  • 13% of respondents indicated they had no access to specialist for their special needs' child due to COVID-19.
  • 19% of respondents indicated they had limited access to specialist for their special needs' child due to COVID-19.

For many AIAN families in California, COVID-19 pandemic and distance learning are impacting students' ability to access consistent nutrition and counteract social isolation through connection to their teachers, peers, and community and cultural activities.

  • More than 40% of families surveyed 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 worsen due to COVID-19. 
  • Survey found that nearly 70% of students are not getting enough physical exercise as a result of COVID-19.
  • Survey found that 45% of families experienced a decrease in income during the COVID- 19 pandemic.

Many Tribes and tribal community organizations are working to increase protective factors to address both the educational and emotional and physical well-being needs of AIAN students, as well as counteract negative outcomes of historical trauma. This will take enormous resources, infrastructure and strategies to fill the gaps caused by COVID-19.

"I want to thank all the organizations who participated in this review of COVID-19's path of destruction in our communities," said Assemblymember James C. Ramos. "Their findings revealed what we suspected — the disease was especially vicious among communities of color. In my own American Indian Alaska Native community 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."

It is clear that our American Indian families in California are experiencing disproportionate impacts and as educators, policy makers, and advocates, immediate action and investment is needed.