Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Back On The No-Longer-Trailing Pandemic Education Edge: Digging A Ditch

I've been offering updates from my own small town/rural corner of the universe for just one more data point about how various school districts are dealing with pandemic education. We don't all need to write about New York City schools.

My region had a decent shot. In a county of 50,000 people, we had a total of 70 cases at the beginning of September. All schools opened for face-to-face instruction, with various precautions and protocols in place.

Things have gone south pretty rapidly. We just passed 1,000 cases. 

School districts had moved from face to face to hybrid elementary and distance high school. That lasted a few weeks, but there have been repeated multiple out breaks in schools. One district is still toggling between hybrid and distance--basically every time there's a confirmed case in the school, they go back to distance for a couple of weeks. Everyone else was in distance mode.

Last night several local boards (there are four districts in the county) met to decide what to do with the rest of December. The discussions were spirited but nuanced. Because we are so rural, there are some major issues with getting a wifi signal to some folks; there are a few hot spots set up, but (and this seems to escape some folks) a hot spot is basically a relay station, and you can't relay a signal you can't get. So folks who want to use the hot spots have to drive to them. Not everyone has vehicle access, and winter's moving in.

The local boards really struggling. Nobody thinks virtual school is best. Nobody. But now, really for the first time, people now people who have suffered or died from covid. Reliably Trumpy Facebook pages now get pushback against "this is all just a scam, you dumb sheeple" posts. 

"Look, I didn't have any names to put to this two weeks ago. Now I do," said one local principal to his board. "There's no easy answers. I'm riding the fence, too. Are we digging a ditch educationally? Yes, but we could be digging a ditch to put somebody in."

People are concerned about the uncertainty. Teachers are worried about safety (well, most are) and working to deal with the workload challenges of the various models. Teachers are sharing hacks, tips, pieces of software, materials, teaming up for online instruction. They have the advantage of having started the year face to face and building an initial relationship with students, but it's still tough. Tomorrow night, at her students' request, my wife is hosting a zoom hot chocolate party with her second graders, during which they will sip hot chocolate and show off decorations/pets/whatever at their homes.

People are concerned about the virus, about the viability of local small businesses, about staying caught up with the state's patchwork quilt of inconsistent rules. And what is anyone going to do about Christmas? This is likely to be a long month.

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