School systems have in the past planned for interruptions caused by severe weather events such as snowstorms or hurricanes with makeup days and extensions to the school year. But dealing with a pandemic about which there is so much uncertainty is completely new and different and — as some educators confess — even terrifying. It appears that schools working with local officials and, in some cases, private businesses are rising to the challenge of providing meals to students who depend on school lunch and breakfast programs. But meeting instructional needs is another matter, and school systems need to be smart and strategic in figuring out ways to ensure that children continue to learn.
No doubt, as The Post’s Donna St. George, Hannah Natanson, Perry Stein and Lauren Lumpkin reported, there is an array of challenges facing school systems in developing and implementing remote learning. How do you reach students who don’t have computers or Internet access at home? How effective can teachers be who have never been trained in distance instruction? What are the expectations for parents who may be juggling the demands of working at home with child care? Are the students really learning or just being given busywork?
Some schools have been proactive and forward-thinking. Success Academy, which operates 45 charter schools in New York City, is now in its second week of distance learning, and its program, stressing simplicity, reading and individual contact with students, is setting an example that others are following. D.C. schools, where closures will extend until at least April 27, rolled out their distance learning program on Tuesday. Maryland and Virginia, by contrast, have lagged; schools in the Washington area have done no systemwide instruction. They have not assigned or taught new material. Complaints by parents in Montgomery County about the lack of online instruction prompted Superintendent Jack R. Smith to explain in a community letter that the March 16-27 closure of all Maryland schools is considered an emergency closure in which teachers and other employees do not work. He stressed to us that the system took advantage of the two weeks by developing robust plans for distance instruction that will be rolled out in phases starting next week. Maryland officials said all schools in the state will come up with plans for distance learning. The Virginia Department of Education issued guidance that included recommendations for distance learning, and Fairfax County Public Schools announced Friday it will begin remote learning for all students on April 14.
This is no ordinary snowstorm. School officials need to look to the long term with thinking that will keep children learning.