Setting it Straight: Closing Schools Does NOT Mean Discontinuing Education


Setting it Straight: Closing Schools Does NOT Mean Discontinuing Education

“If schools don’t open, taxpayers should get their money back.” “Teachers who don’t want to return to school should be fired for not doing their jobs.” “Days spent in online learning should not count toward students’ required instructional time.”

These are just a few of the retaliations that educators face as both interested and non-interested parties take issue with their schools’ decisions whether or not to open buildings up for face-to-face instruction this fall.

Lack of respect and inadequate funding have long been major pain points of the educational system, and these people are hitting educators where it hurts the most. The wrongful assumption that closing schools means an end to public education undermines the dedication that educators have shown in the face of the coronavirus crisis and threatens their ability to continue meeting students’ needs as the pandemic drags on.

THE CLOSING OF SCHOOL BUILDINGS DOES NOT EQUATE A SHUTDOWN OF EDUCATION.

It is necessary to make some important distinctions:

Virtual learning is not homeschooling.

In homeschooling, parents must take full responsibility for their children’s education, selecting and vetting curriculum, creating and overseeing learning activities, and monitoring and evaluating their children’s progress. Homeschooling represents a complete break of the student from the school district and is made at the discretion of the family. No school is planning to abandon students and their families, leaving them devoid of educational resources and support in a time when they need it most.

The crisis learning of the spring does not represent true online learning.

Teachers and school officials everywhere will be the first to admit that the emergency procedures put into place during the spring did not embody an ideal climate for learning. With little time to prepare, unclear guidelines, and restrictions on the demands they could make of students, teachers found themselves in a limbo of improvising the rest of the school year without furthering their curriculum. A well-articulated online learning program would eliminate the frustration and uncertainty that students and their families suffered during the spring school closures.

LEARNING WILL HAPPEN WHETHER IN-PERSON OR VIRTUALLY.

Let’s take a brief look at where teachers and administrators are at:

Schools Administrators are working harder than ever to accommodate families and teachers during uncertain times.

To prevent loss of enrollment due to families’ “shopping” for the school that offers the most attractive format, school districts are rolling out plans that offer choices in-person instruction, online learning, and sometimes a hybrid combination of the two. School administrators are investing their already-scarce funds to improve learning within each of these spheres. They have subscribed to new learning management systems that are more accessible to students and their families, bought new devices to close the digital divide and ensure 1:1 technology access for students, and purchased new curricula that will ease the transition between the classroom and virtual learning.

Teachers are hard at work to prepare themselves to meet the increased demands that their districts’ opening plans entail.

Educators everywhere have forfeited their well-earned summer breaks to create plans that are inclusive of all their students’ and families’ diverse needs. They have enrolled in voluntary (and sometimes costly) webinars on educational technology. They have reached out to other teachers and done personal research to master the best online learning practices. They have spent hours converting their tried-and-true lessons to online formats to ensure that their online instruction meets the same rigorous standards as their classroom teaching. In short, teachers are prepared to work just as hard—if not much harder—to ensure quality education this year in whatever format it takes.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Regardless of precautions, no school is immune to a potential outbreak.

The irrefutable truth, however, is that, regardless of precautions in place for face-to-face and hybrid instruction, no school is immune to a potential outbreak of COVID cases and the possibility of one or more emergency closures throughout the school year. When—not if—this occurs, districts and teachers are striving to ensure that education can continue to the same degree that they have provided it in the classroom. Their efforts will eliminate disparities between online learning and classroom instruction, meaning that all students, regardless of how they learn, will emerge from this tumultuous school year with the same knowledge and competencies to carry into the next year.

Teachers want to get back to work, but learning CAN also happen online.

The criticisms being leveled at schools to deter them from opting for online learning are unfounded and potentially dangerous. Teachers miss their students, but they realize it is much safer and less heartbreaking to miss them from the opposite end of a computer screen than to miss them from a hospital…or worse. Threatening schools with loss of enrollment, funding, and instructional time will force districts into making choices that go against their better judgment for the safety of their students, their staff, and the families of both. This in turn could expedite the spread of the virus not just within the school but throughout the community at large, and it poses dire consequences for a society already struggling to survive the pandemic.

Will it hurt students even more if there’s an outbreak and we need to switch back to distance learning?

The real question, then, becomes not how to coerce schools into opening for full face-to-face instruction but how to give schools the support they need to make seamless transitions between in-person and fully remote learning as they respond to the ever-changing state of the pandemic.

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Setting it Straight: Closing Schools Does NOT Mean Discontinuing Education

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Melisa Ferguson
Melisa is a mom, world language teacher, and self-care enthusiast.
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