Some Parents Are Demanding In-Person Schooling as the Pandemic Stretches On

Protesters rally for schools to be reopened for full, in-person instruction outside Beckman High School in Irvine, Calif., on Sept. 8, 2020. Credit – Paul Bersebach—Orange County Register/Getty Images

Shalyse Olson knows there are risks associated with sending her children back to school during the coronavirus pandemic, but the mother of four in Salem, Oregon says virtual learning “has been nothing but frustrating and sad.”

Olson, whose children are enrolled in kindergarten through 10th grade in Salem-Keizer Public Schools, says she understood the need for remote learning initially, when the pandemic closed schools abruptly and forced teachers, students and parents to find ad-hoc workarounds from home. “All of a sudden it was like, ‘This will have to be good enough for now.’ And it was for a few weeks at the end of the year,’” says Olson.

“But now, others are finding ways to do this safely. And we need to get on board and catch up, or it’s going to be a hard one to recover from.”

A recent analysis of 106 school district plans by the Center on Reinventing Public Education found that just 10% were in-person at the beginning of September, but 55% of those districts are planning to be in-person by November. A recent Washington Post survey of the country’s 50 largest school districts found that 24 have resumed in-person learning for large groups of students, and 11 others plan to in the coming weeks.

Chicago Public Schools, for example, announced a phased plan for returning to school, which drew pushback from the Chicago Teachers Union, which called the plan “reckless” as cases surge in the city. But district CEO Janice Jackson said she was “not throwing in the towel on in-person instruction.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed urged the city’s school district on Oct. 16 “to do what needs to be done to get our kids back in school.” “The achievement gap is widening as our public school kids are falling further behind every single day,” Breed said, noting that “parents are frustrated and looking for answers.”

But on Tuesday, the district’s superintendent said the schools would not reopen until 2021, citing limited COVID-19 testing capacity, the San Francisco Examiner reported.

“We’ve seen around the country, and in almost every state, that cases are going up right now.”

Such disputes are playing out across the country as parents realize that remote learning is likely to last far longer than they imagined. Some express frustration that they can go to restaurants and into shops, yet their children cannot go to classes. Others see remote learning as the necessary response to a virus that has not been brought under control.

As the Trump administration plays down the pandemic’s gravity, school districts have largely been left to figure things out on their own. (Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Tuesday that it’s not up to the federal government to track school districts and their coronavirus infection rates.) Parents have resorted to citing individual anecdotes as evidence of the success …

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