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Thinker's Notebook

One School of Thought

Summer is winding down, and the school season is upon us. If this was a normal year, we’d be talking about back to school sales and children enjoying the end of yet another innocent summer. Except this isn’t just any year. This is 2020, and nothing at all is normal about it.
Our children have been locked out of schools since March 16th 2020. Remote learning for the last three months of the school year was basically a failure, don’t let anyone else tell you differently. The very idea of remote learning is classist in nature, because it requires resources to meet the standard necessary for an adequate learning environment. My sister has two children and they both have access to iPads and laptops. They have the resources to meet the standards. I’ve spoken to parents that aren’t as lucky. One parent, in particular, has three children ages 10, 8 and 5. The parent has one laptop and one phone. All of the children cannot possibly meet the standards of an adequate learning environment. Not to mention the aforementioned parent works at Target, so she doesn’t have the leisure of working from home. The idea that remote learning works for everyone is classist in nature.

The biggest disappointment lies within the bureaucracy and the politics surrounding the decision on any school reopening plans. Last Friday, Mayor DeBlasio released his school reopening plan to mixed reviews. The plan calls for a blended approach of weekly remote learning and in-school learning. Most students would be in class two to three days a week and teachers would be tested regularly. DOE Chancellor Carranza also created this round-robin kind of guideline for schools where a student tests positive. This past Monday, teachers staged a protest against the reopening plan. Among their concerns is the fact that many classrooms simply do not have proper ventilation and the teachers don’t feel safe returning.
So, what is the right answer? And, if there are no right answers then what is a reasonable middle ground? The DOE recently created a portal for parents that would allow them to choose 100% remote learning for their children or the hybrid approach mentioned in DeBlasio’s reopening plan. As of today, roughly 25% of the families that have filled out the survey have chosen 100% remote learning. Parents have until this Friday to choose a plan for their children.

What baffles me is this, there are many variations of in school learning that could satisfy the arguments that both sides have with regards to kids returning to school. For example, teachers can still teach remotely if children are in school. Simply equip each classroom with a large screen and have teachers instruct from their homes. You can staff each classroom with a health professional, trained to triage students and certified in class management. You could shorten class sizes to less than 20, and provide plexiglass around the desks to mitigate contact. Or, you can expand upon the ventilation of each classroom and keep students in the same classroom all day to lessen person to person contact. The truth is that the Department of Education has had five months to create a strategy to confront the new concerns in a way that would be sufficient. Instead, they’ve done nothing and want us to send our children and our families back into the school system that in all honesty wasn’t the safest space health wise prior to Covid. You look around the globe and what you find is school systems that are using this pandemic as a challenge to make a new system of educating children. For example, in China children take their temperature before leaving home and upload the results to an app that logs their temperature into a school database. Their temperature is taken again when they arrive at school. In Amsterdam, schools are required to maintain the same social bubble all day every day – the same students and the same teacher, in the same rooms everyday. My point is that instead of using this obstacle as a way to erect new paradigms, it seems as if the DOE and the Mayor want to put children and teachers back into the same archaic one, albeit for only three days a week.

School and learning are essential. The people charged with creating a safe way to continue the education process have to do a better job. While there are some children that can and will thrive under 100% remote learning, for most families such a thing would be a burden that wouldn’t work – not for the kids and not for the parents.

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