USA Today

Remote Learning Failed My Third-Grader Miserably. I Pulled Her Out of Public School.

February 10, 2021

(USA Today)—My family is one among the millions trying to figure out how to keep their children’s educations on track in the fog of the pandemic.

I have three kids in three different schools. My sixth grade son has attended an independent school the last couple of years. He’s currently on a hybrid schedule: half the days at home, half at school. My high-school senior attends our in-boundary District of Columbia public school, and for him the pandemic has meant pure online instruction since March 2020, minimal social interaction, moderate dejection and none of the traditional milestones that kids his age usually look forward to. Most days he describes his mood as “zoomed out” and says he’s just counting down the days until the end of high school.

My third-grade daughter began the 2020-2021 school year at our neighborhood public elementary school where she’d been since kindergarten. She had made it through the previous spring’s school-assisted, parent-enforced home schooling in 2020, but after a few months in the fall it became clear that the teaching format was a problem for her. We gave it our best effort. We offered tech support and sporadic help, juggling our own work-from-home situations. It was not nearly enough.

Screen Time Sabotage

For her, figuring out how to operate the technology dominated the instruction. She was absorbing marginal amounts of on-level learning. She’d never met her teacher in person. Unsupervised, she was up and down in her seat. She was leaving the room. She was toggling over to YouTube. She’d spend long frustrating stretches trying to figure out how to lay out a document or submit her work. There were missing assignments. Some days began and ended in tears.

Her first quarter grades were poor and for her, a conscientious student, demoralizing. She now saw herself as a bad student. She joined the millions of American students suffering academically, socially and emotionally because they can’t go to school.

How long were we willing to wait to see if the public schools might reopen? How far down would we follow her negative trajectory?

Right after the district’s November 2020 announcement that there was no plan for kids to return to school until February we withdrew her from her public school. My daughter loved our public school, the community, her friends and teachers. Pre-COVID, we had no intention to leave it. But when we miraculously found her a spot in a great parochial school that held in-person instruction four days a week (Wednesdays are virtual from home), we took it.

When you’re the parent of a miserable and failing student, you want only to change the trajectory. In my daughter’s case, the answer was clear: She needed to be in school.

Almost immediately I saw an improvement in her mental health and educational attainment. She wears a mask during the school day and is flourishing. It turns out I wasn’t the only parent fed up: As the opening bell of the 2020-2021 school year rang, D.C. Public Schools and D.C. public charter schools had about 20,000 fewer students enrolled than the year before.

On Feb. 2, Washington, D.C., public schools finally made their first attempt at reopening, but available slots are limited and returning to in-person instruction is optional. Even as the district makes these stutter steps, the Washington Teachers’ Union is threatening to strike.

But my family was more than lucky. What if we’d had no options?

Follow the Science—Open the Schools

Most parents, students, and educators acknowledge that the quality of in-person instruction can’t be equaled with online learning. So then, there are only two meaningful questions: Can schools open? If so, why aren’t they?

Last month, a study authored by three scientists with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said yes, they can, with precautions. “The type of rapid spread that was frequently observed in congregate living facilities or high-density worksites,” the study said, “has not been reported in education settings in schools.”

Many private and parochial schools are already open. If, as many yard signs will inform you, “science is real,” then why are school boards in places like Fairfax County, Virginia, and Chicago so uncomfortable with the actual scientific prescriptions for opening schools?

The unions, school boards and some politicians need to be honest. In fact, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, co-authored a column warning “data alone is not enough to convince parents, educators or students that they’ll be safe in schools.” But, they are not the impediment to opening our schools. Weingarten is distracting from the key point: Unions are the primary reason schools remain closed.

In the nation’s 10th largest school district, Fairfax County leaders are moving in the direction opposite of where the science is pointing. “Opening,” as they define it, would mean two days a week. And the union wants planning to slow down until after vaccination. County leaders won’t even consider five days a week in a classroom and last week Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam merely requested, rather than ordered, all schools in the state to offer some form of in-person learning by March 15.