Monday, March 1, 2021
March 1, 2021

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In Our View: In-class learning will be a test of its own

The Columbian

In addition to providing benefits for students and parents, the return of children to Clark County classrooms should serve as a beta test.

School districts throughout the county have welcomed small numbers of students to class, after months of exclusively remote learning. Kindergarten students, many of whom have never experienced in-class learning, last week were given the option of attending class for a few hours a couple days a week.

The development comes as coronavirus cases throughout the county, state and country have ballooned — emphasizing the risk of having people in close contact.

Ideally, it will serve as an experiment that can lead to older students spending time in class and experiencing the social interaction that is an essential part of education. As Danielle Dooley, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said: “Being around your peers, being around a community of supportive adults — that’s really critical for a child’s development. They need that contact with their peers in order to grow.”

Few people would argue to the contrary. But weighing the risks vs. the benefits of having children in class during a pandemic is an imperfect science.

Studies have indicated that young students are less susceptible to severe coronavirus complications than older students or adults. The risk, however, is that students can contract the disease and spread it to adults in their homes. There also is a risk that comes with having teachers in a classroom for hours with a group of students.

While those risks are understandable, there also are concerns about the pressure that comes with having students trying to learn at home. Remote learning is not effective for many students, and there is reason to empathize with parents who are trying to balance work schedules with being a de facto teacher in the home.

There are no perfect scenarios, nor is there a one-size-fits-all solution for Clark County families. Particularly for families with multiple school-age children or those who already struggle with educational inequities, attempting to balance demands is an impossible situation.

As the Centers for Disease Control recommends, decisions to reopen schools should consider “the potential adverse impacts on students’ social-emotional, behavioral, and mental health, as well as the critical services provided to students to help mitigate health disparities and serve children in need.”

Because of that, schools must strive to offer as many options for as many students as possible. In Vancouver Public Schools, which opened to some in-class kindergarten learning last week, a survey indicated that 13.4 percent of families will stick with all-remote instruction.

Providing parents with that choice is an important step, particularly for young students who are most likely to struggle with at-home learning and less likely to suffer from severe COVID implications.

In announcing plans to welcome kindergarten students into class, Battle Ground superintendent Mark Ross wrote: “Developing relationships, learning to understand and manage their emotions, forming letter sounds and reading high-frequency words — these are all tasks that are challenging for a kindergartner to accomplish with a screen between them and their teacher.”

Indeed. Now it will be essential to measure the results and the spread of coronavirus in weighing the risks of bringing older children back to school.