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Carol Burris interviewed teachers, students and administrators about their experiences returning to school. As you might expect, she encountered a range of reactions.
The Network for Public Education is following 37 districts in New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut that reopened — either hybrid or full time. Of the 23 districts that responded to our inquiry regarding remote learners, the average rate of students who opted to not attend in person was 21 percent. Percentages ranged from 6 percent of the school population to 50 percent. Larger percentages of students of color are associated with higher remote rates.
Superintendent Joe Roy said he has been carefully examining patterns among the 25 percent of students whose families chose remote learning in his district in Bethlehem, Pa. For the most part, they are students from affluent families who have academic supports for learning at home, or conversely, are from the least affluent homes. The families of his district’s students of color, many of whom work in local warehouses, were hit harder by the pandemic and, therefore, are more reticent to send their children back to school. Roy’s neighboring district, Allentown, where 86 percent of the students are Black or Latinx, decided to go all virtual after a parent survey showed a majority were not ready for in-person learning.
One middle school teacher with whom I spoke, who requested anonymity, said he hopes that the schools open soon. Technology for remote learning has been an issue he told me — from hardware to poor connections. “We are losing kids,” he said. “Our kindergarten enrollment is much lower than it has been in previous years. Of a class of 19, maybe 17 of my students log on to my early morning class. When I meet them later in the day, 12 or fewer show up. A 6½-hour day on Zoom is brutal. Some are keeping their cameras off, and others don’t respond. Many of my students can’t work independently.”
The challenges of in-person learning
Over half of the 37 districts we are following now bring some or all students back full time. Those schools that are using hybrid typically split students into two small cohorts that share the same teacher. Some bring those cohorts back three days one week and two days the following week. Others bring the cohorts back only two days a week — on consecutive days or staggered days with a fifth day when all stay home.
Although those I spoke with are glad to be back, school is certainly not the same as before the pandemic.
My youngest grandchildren returned to in-person school for only two days last week, and they were ecstatic. The schools did everything that was required—masks, social distancing, hand washing. Who knew that children loved school so much?