Parents of schoolchildren learning from home shouldn’t necessarily count on reclaiming the dining room table any time soon.
After seeing two academic years thrown off course by the pandemic, school leaders around the country are planning for the possibility of more distance learning next fall at the start of yet another school year.
“We have no illusions that COVID will be eradicated by the time the start of the school year comes up,” said William “Chip” Sudderth III, a spokesperson for Durham, North Carolina schools, whose students have been out of school buildings since March.
President Joe Biden has made reopening schools a top priority, but administrators say there is much to consider as new strains of the coronavirus appear and teachers wait their turn for vaccinations.
And while many parents are demanding that schools fully reopen, others say they won’t feel safe sending children back to classrooms until vaccines are available to even young students. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top public health expert, said late last month the Biden administration hopes to begin vaccinating children by late spring or early summer.
By then, districts will be deep into preparations for the next school year.
“As far as 2021-22, at least some part of that school year is likely still going to be pandemic response-related on the assumption that children won’t have access to the vaccine, or at least many won’t,” said Superintendent Brian Woods, of Northside Independent School District, among the largest districts in Texas.
That could mean a more teacher-friendly version of the mix of in-person and remote learning happening now, one that doesn’t require teachers to simultaneously instruct two groups. That could be accomplished either by splitting staffing or rearranging schedules, he said, adding longer term may see an all-remote option for students who have moved on permanently from traditional school.
“There’s going to be some element of the genie not being able to be put back in the bottle,” Woods said. “I think that there now will always be a group of families who want a virtual option. … We know we’re able to, but are we willing to do it?”
Faced with the same reality, California’s West Contra Costa Unified School District is planning a new K-12 Virtual Academy for 2021-22.
“One thing that we have learned during the pandemic is that teaching and learning is now different, and it will not fully be what we used to think was `normal’ ever again,” read the January agenda item before the Board of Education.
The pivot to distance learning last march has proved a lifeline for the education system, but concerns have grown with each passing month about the effects on racial inequities, students’ academic performance, attendance and their overall well being.
In Durham, North Carolina, schools — which has been fully remote since March — announced last month that it would remain that way through the end of the current academic year.
Beyond that, Sudderth said, “the prevalence of the disease will determine what we are able to do.”
The guideline for whether the 32,000-student district could move from remote to…
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