Governor DeSantis and Commissioner Corcoran,
Please allow me to express my thanks to both of you for making the sound decision to close schools statewide in light of COVID-19. I applaud you for having the foresight to recognize that sheltering in place is the best method to stop the spread of this deadly virus.
In the midst of all of the crisis management and tough leadership decisions you are making, I’d like to share some perspective.
I understand that a directive has been given to school districts to begin some form of distance/virtual learning this week; sooner for some districts. From your press release, I know that Commissioner Corcoran understands that “it’s critical that we keep students safe and healthy” during this incredibly stressful time. I couldn’t agree more with this statement, which is why I have concerns about the distance learning directive.
First, there is the most obvious concern – not all families have access to the technology needed to learn in a virtual environment (i.e. computers and the internet). I know that districts across the state have done a tremendous job of distributing devices to families. I also know that businesses are stepping up to provide free or low cost internet. All of them are to be commended for their efforts, and I’m sure it will go a long way to help some students. Those things will not, however, help the families that live in a rural area that lack the infrastructure to access the internet.
For families who do have access to a device and the internet, some of them may be using these devices for the first time; others don’t use them a lot. This means there will be a large gap in levels of technical knowledge.
For some children, life at home is not conducive to distance learning. Even if they are provided with paper worksheets/packets, they may be living in an abusive situation, at a homeless shelter, or have other adverse childhood experiences that prevent them from focusing on academics while school is closed.
Another concern is students with IEP’s and/or 504’s. I’m aware that conversations have taken place at the state level about ways to address these, but I haven’t seen the results of these conversations made public, other than documents that already existed before this crisis. There are many students whose disability prevents them from learning without the accommodations that are provided in a classroom.
There are also privacy concerns, particularly with some software programs that capture and sell user data without permission. Many parents and teachers are not aware of these issues, and therefore are not able to take steps to prevent them.
Perhaps the most overlooked concern with distance/virtual learning is this: working parents who are trying to survive an incredibly stressful situation while putting a priority on keeping their families safe and healthy. As one elementary school principal said in a message that has gone viral on social media: “It is absolutely not possible to facilitate distance learning with a primary aged child and work from home at the same time. The very idea is nonsense. If you’re trying to do that, stop now. You can certainly have activities where your child learns, but your focus is your job, and survival. Again, unprecedented. Stop trying to be superheroes.”
Please stop asking us to be superheroes.
Sure, there are parents who want to facilitate distance learning, and they should have the freedom and flexibility to do that through enrichment activities. I also understand the value in students connecting with their teachers virtually. However, by requiring students to participate in distance learning as though they were in school (as the Commissioner explained in a recent video), you are placing a burden on teachers and parents that is unachievable for many, and incredibly stressful for most.
Here are some additional sources that explain the inequities present in distance learning:
- Coronavirus Forces Schooling From Home. Why That Will be a Problem.
- Coronavirus: Shift to Online Learning May Leave Poor Kids Behind.
- Virtual Learning Through Quarantine Will Leave Poor and Disabled Students Behind
Parents were surveyed by districts recently to ask about readiness for virtual learning, but the only things that were included in the survey were technology needs. We haven’t been asked about the equally important things that are needed for successful distance/virtual learning, such as technical abilities, family work situations, or mental health/capacity.
I fall into the “working parent” category. My family’s mental health is more important to me at this time than my children’s schooling. As state leaders, I ask you to send the message to all families that our kids’ mental health is more important to you as well. Please consider distance learning to be optional enrichment only, and make plans to assist the children who aren’t able to complete it once school returns.
Thank you for your time.