Monday, September 21, 2020
Sept. 21, 2020

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In Our View: Remote lessons must be accessible to all

The Columbian

As local districts plan for the coming school year amid the coronavirus pandemic, we hope that lessons have been learned.

The abrupt closure of school buildings in March led to the haphazard adoption of remote education, with educators doing their best to teach homebound students from afar. The shortcomings were predictable; the situation was unprecedented for teachers, administrators, students and parents.

Now, with months to prepare, schools should be better able to keep students engaged for a full day’s worth of lessons. With just weeks remaining until the scheduled beginning of the 2020-21 school year, plans should be taking shape and should focus on making remote learning accessible to all students.

Following a news release last week from Educational Service District 112, that is a logical step. Leaders from ESD 112 — which includes the Evergreen, Vancouver, Battle Ground, Camas, Hockinson, La Center, Ridgefield and Washougal districts — announced they will ask for the resumption of distance learning in September.

Those decisions will be up to individual school boards, and they could vary from district to district. But with the COVID-19 outbreak remaining stringent throughout Clark County, remote learning seems to be the best path for protecting the health of students, teachers and staff, and the community at large. As Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County Public Health director, said: “We all agree that in-person education is best. However, the data and science of COVID-19 suggest it’s just too dangerous to head back to the classroom right now.”

Mark Ross, superintendent of Battle Ground Public Schools, added: “The safety of our staff, students and families is a top priority, and I am not willing to take a chance that our staff and families could be exposed to COVID-19 when alternative options are available to us.”

The key will be to make those alternative options effective, and that will require coordination within a particular district. As education expert Natalie Wexler wrote for Forbes: “Some considerations are logistical: Try not to use too many different apps or platforms or Google docs–or different classroom routines.” Anecdotally, one of the problems with remote learning during the spring was the use of a variety of platforms that led to confusion. This is particularly true of higher grade levels where students have multiple teachers.

Schools also must adjust for gaps in accessibility to remote learning. A national survey by advocacy group ParentsTogether found that students with fewer resources on average spent far less time engaged with remote learning than did those from wealthy families. Students from families with low incomes and students with special needs might not have access to a home computer — or might have several children trying to use the same computer.

None of this is news to administrators; but it points out the difficulty of devising plans to make remote learning replicate a classroom. “When you stop learning, is that good for society?,” asked Monty Anderson of the Battle Ground school board. “Is that good for well-being? How is that for social and emotional learning?”

Those are valid questions to which there are no clear answers. Remote learning is a novel situation that will take decades to fully assess. We trust that local school districts will do their best to protect students and staff while providing the best education possible. And we trust that they have learned from the experiments that took place during the spring.