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Public school
online learning
How part-time
remote learning
can help schools

Author: Rose de Fremery

Originally, districts had one goal in moving public school online: to keep their communities safe during the pandemic. At the time, many people assumed things would go back to normal once the crisis abated. And when state and local governments eased public health restrictions, many schools reverted to in-person learning as expected.

However, as The New York Times notes, some schools are now adding several more remote school days to their schedules—and the reasons behind that decision are complex. Here's a look at why districts are shifting to incorporate remote learning again and what it means for students, parents and teachers.

Why schools are returning to remote learning

Last winter, district officials overseeing Northeast Middle School in Minneapolis abruptly moved to distance learning after learning of a threat to the school. This time, rather than temporarily suspending in-person learning to protect students and teachers from a dangerous virus, administrators closed the school out of an abundance of caution to prevent a violent incident from taking place.

Having already used technology to offer online middle school during the early stages of the pandemic, school officials used this backup option to ensure everyone's safety once more. Before remote learning was available, schools simply had to shut down if they thought the threat was serious enough. Now, they have a way to ensure better educational continuity. That said, there are difficult trade-offs involved for families and students. This same logic has even prompted some districts to replace snow days with remote learning.

According to the New York Times, administrators in districts across the country have also moved public school online for an entirely different reason: to compensate for labor shortages and prevent exhausted teachers from resigning en masse. Last fall, Detroit Public Schools notified parents and caregivers that they would close their classrooms every Friday in December. Then, on the Friday before Thanksgiving, they added that school would also be canceled for the entire following week.

Districts report that teachers are burned out from trying to help students make up for the learning loss they experienced during the pandemic, and they're also wiped out from working overtime to compensate for short staffing. As with other professionals who feel they've hit a wall and cannot continue with the status quo, some of these educators are considering leaving their positions or even the profession altogether. One survey found that 55% of public school employees are planning to leave the profession sooner than they'd planned because of pandemic-related stresses. To try and keep them from quitting, administrators are offering remote learning as a stopgap measure.

How remote learning is affecting families and students

Although it's a good option to have public school online when urgent situations arise, families cannot easily turn on a dime when in-person classes are suspended. Some parents and caregivers may have already used up their paid leave to stay home with students when remote learning was the only choice earlier in the pandemic, and many of them cannot bow out of work for fear of losing their jobs. When they have very little notice about a pivot to remote learning, parents and caregivers may become frustrated and feel that schools simply don't understand or appreciate the realities of their daily lives.

Given the impact of distance learning on education equality, parents and students may also have understandable concerns about how a near-overnight shift to remote learning will impact the learning experience itself. Students with learning disabilities or special education requirements may struggle to adjust when such a rapid change takes place, and some students may not have the technology or other materials needed to remotely participate in online middle school. Parents and students are also burned out after having endured two extraordinarily difficult pandemic years. From the perspective of a district official, there are no easy answers in this situation.

How remote learning technologies can ease the transition

Distance learning will continue to play a significant role in education for the foreseeable future. Whether students have to stay home because of a snow storm, a potential threat to the school or even just a garden variety cold, online middle school is becoming the new norm. To ease the transition and make sure the learning experience doesn't suffer, district leaders and IT directors should prepare to support remote learning going forward.

When these kinds of situations arise, effective parent engagement is key. According to the New York Times article, one parent only found out that her child's school would go remote later that week because she happened to see a post about it on social media. Districts can use a mobile unified communications platform like OneTalk to easily notify parents and caregivers about, for example, an upcoming shift to online middle school like Northeast Middle School faced, so they have as much advance notice as possible to coordinate their schedules.

During remote learning itself, schools can use a conferencing platform to keep students engaged with video and text chat. They can even provide tools to recap the main points during the lesson, so it is easier to capture key takeaways. Lastly, high-quality internet connectivity will always be essential for a distance learning experience. Districts can prepare for a move to remote learning by provisioning mobile broadband instant hotspots in advance, so collaboration and learning can still continue even under quickly changing circumstances.

Preparation is key when providing public school online

The conversation started with parents and caregivers questioning—how does online public school work in a pandemic? Many weren't sure. And since then, schools have navigated an unprecedented amount of change. Whether the future of education is a hybrid of the HyFlex model or something else entirely is yet to be seen. District officials cannot always predict when they will have to move public school online—but they can mitigate the challenges it creates by assuming it will happen again at some point. By taking advantage of collaboration and distance learning technology now schools can better ensure educational continuity during challenging circumstances and reduce the difficulties associated with a sudden shift to remote learning.

Learn how to drive greater digital equity and access in education.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.