How/If Indian River County, FL Will Schools Reopen?

Let’s hope we can rethink and grow virtual learning into positive outcomes for all Indian River County students.

On May 23, 2020 I spoke (as publisher of Vero Communiqué ) with a nice young man I’ve gotten to know who works at Publix and is a student at Sebastian River High School.

He was worried about his education and GPA.  He said virtual learning is not working and he has an F in four classes.  He said you can’t do Math and Chemistry on line.  He said all his friends have at least two Fs.   He is smart and doesn’t know how you can reopen schools with social distancing and how that would affect bussing.  He said he wants to do summer school somehow to pull up his GPA.

One teacher recently wrote: “Teachers have felt a great deal of pressure to reduce the number of failing grades over the past two weeks. Assignments are modified and the time required to complete them is minimal compared to those given under normal circumstances. Many hours are spent each week contacting parents (to be sure they’re informed) and students (to try to motivate them to do their abbreviated assignments and to provide needed assistance when needed).

The situation might not, in the end, be as dire as the student you met at Publix. I do agree with him, however, that online learning is not a success as currently structured. I’m sure that the student’s teachers are doing all they can do, given present limitations. I promise, though, he is not alone, and that, like my students, his grades will most likely improve before they are posted.”

Another teacher wrote: “I agree that it seems the teachers have had little support, and the edict to ‘be lenient’ seems more of an excuse for that lack of support so administrators aren’t dealing with frustrated kids and disgruntled parents. 

Kudos to you all the teachers who have taken on this stressful task.

Teaching online is not a smooth transition from classroom teaching. My husband said it best: ‘In the classroom, when Johnny can’t find the handout, you pull one off your desk and hand it to him.  Problem solved in one minute. When he can’t find the virtual handout, you have to stop, email or scan, resend, etc.’

So much extra time and energy spent on off-task problem solving. Not to mention, there was no online platform in place: teachers had to re-invent their curricula to a virtual delivery.  I heard this last week, ’change is inevitable, but growth is optional.’”

Amy David Sorkin recently wrote in The New Yorker that “For many families, it is unthinkable that schools won’t open, although there are sharp divisions; a Politico/Morning Consult poll of registered voters showed that a plurality think that remote instruction should continue in the fall. The cost of keeping children out of classrooms is high, educationally and socially.

Lost instructional time is hard to recapture; some high-school students may drop out. Schools provide meals, social services, and, for many students, a safe haven, and they allow parents to go to work.

Children, of course, are not the only ones in schools; there are about 3.2 million public-school teachers nationwide, and an untold number of aides, administrators, food-service workers, custodians, guards, and school-bus drivers.”

In New York City, the schools chancellor, Richard Carranza, recently spoke of deep budget cuts. “Students are going to feel perhaps bigger class sizes,” he said.

Similarly, Superintendent Thurmond announced that California, for all its brainstorming, “cannot reopen safely” if planned cuts, amounting to more than fifteen billion dollars, go into effect. Both officials are hoping for federal aid; there has been a severe lack of leadership from the Trump Administration in that regard.

Many of the complexities are reflected in guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Among other measures, they advise, if “feasible,” spacing desks six feet apart, having children eat lunch at their desks, and preventing younger kids from sharing toys. Another recommendation from the C.D.C. is that seats be left empty on school buses—will require money, and so far the funding is not there.

Texas is allowing schools to offer in-person summer school starting June 1st, with classes limited, for now, to eleven people. California will call for disinfecting facilities more frequently, and mask-wearing. 

As Ms. Sorken wrote: “In making reopening decisions, politicians and school officials need to listen to all parties involved. 

That includes teachers but also families; school readiness may mean parents teaching children to wear masks. 

Above all, perhaps, the process should involve students. Their perspective deserves respect in sorting out what aspects of school culture are most valuable, and how they might safely be sustained.

Students, particularly the older ones, are ultimately going to have to be trusted to follow social-distancing mandates on their own. Faced with the threat posed by school shootings, high schoolers have at times shown more of a capacity for leadership than politicians; in this crisis, too, they may surpass the adults around them. That may be an education in itself.” 

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