My Turn: Concord School Board must answer questions about remote learning plan

For the Monitor
Published: 8/10/2020 11:11:19 AM

The lack of clear state and federal guidelines – plus the knowledge of pending large events in the state – has left school boards struggling to figure out complex science and health data on their own. And in the face of the unknown, many, like Concord, have reverted to what appears to be the safest choice – fully remote learning.

As a parent, I was somewhat comfortable with the proposed hybrid model: allowing parents to choose to go fully remote or to have their children in school two days a week, with remote learning on the other days. It seemed a reasonable attempt to balance the public health risks – by allowing for the recommended social distancing – with the social, emotional and educational risks of children not attending school. That being said, I understand the arguments for fully remote, and believe it is a reasonable choice.

The Concord School Board rejected the hybrid approach because members said there were too many unanswered questions. Yet the board did not answer– other than saying it would be better than last year – the many questions about remote learning. I had expected that the acting superintendent’s recommendation would have been a result of ongoing discussions with the board and the community but that does not appear to have been the case based on the discussion last week, or based on the lack of discussion reflected in the latest meeting minutes posted on the board’s website.

That being said, the board has said that it will meet weekly to review the COVID-19 data. As it does, I hope they will actively work to take the following steps to ensure we can forward as best as possible:

1) The board should define the public health benchmarks that would allow/require Concord to move from fully remote to hybrid and/or back to fully remote. It is not fair that districts are forced to do this on their own, but it is a decision that can’t be punted forever. If the position of board members is there should be no in-person learning until there is a vaccine, then the community needs to know this.

2) The board and the district should decide how a switch from remote to hybrid would work, and plan for it upfront. The original hybrid model called for fully remote teachers to instruct fully remote students. If all students are fully remote, will children now go to the classes they were originally assigned? Or will the district incorporate now that aspect of the hybrid model to avoid potential class switches later?

3) There needs to be common, and better, technology. Parents and children can’t once again spend the day switching from platform to platform. There need to be standards, and the whatever video technology chosen should work better than what was used last year – and better than what the board was using.

4) Remote school days must take in the needs of children, but also parents. Children need more structure and more instruction time with their teachers than happened in many cases last year. But please be aware that, especially for the younger children, parents had to be involved in almost every moment. That is a struggle for parents who are also trying to work from home, usually during the same hours as school.

5) Children and parents need to know their teachers. Please allow schools to find a way to do meet-and-greets between children and their new teachers.

6) And most importantly, we need equity for remote learning, and a full, robust plan in place for it before school opens. The board said it was concerned that the hybrid learning model would be inequitable because wealthier parents might opt for fully remote. Well, in fully remote, wealthier parents are opting for private schools, learning coaches, and pods.

Every child in New Hampshire is entitled to a public education and the board has a moral and legal responsibility to provide it – and to provide equal opportunities. Increasing the expectations of remote learning will not help families who could not meet last year’s expectations because of work schedules, lack of internet access, or other factors. Many parents are not able to work from home. Many families can’t afford wi-fi.

One school board member highlighted a Concord High School student doing homework in the school’s parking lot last year. That is not a model. That is a disgrace.

The district must take the lead in establishing safe, remote learning environments where children can fully participate in remote learning, and receive support while doing it.

None of these issues are easy, and I join others in thanking Board members for their service, but these questions – and others – must be addressed.

(Pamela M. Walsh lives in Concord.)

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