Teachers, students worry about being forced back to online learning

Published: Jul. 13, 2020 at 5:52 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 20, 2020 at 2:20 PM EDT
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Some teachers, students and parents are concerned about returning to school this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They're pushing for an immediate investment in broadband should classes have to shift back online. Our Calvin Cutler reports.

After five months of being out of school, teachers, parents and students are gearing up to go back to school in the fall.

Many districts, such as Montpelier, were able to make the leap to online classes this spring. Some educators are concerned many students might get left behind if classes have to go virtual again.

Amanda Ferris is a student at Randolph Union High School and Randolph Technical Career Center. She says she struggled to keep up her learning after being forced to take classes online when schools shut down in March.

"It took a lot of extra time to put my precalculus questions into words and email them to my teacher. I was taking English and history, as well, which are not easy subjects for me. It was hard to learn through Google meets and videos," Amanda Ferris said.

Her mom, Amy, is a teacher at Brookfield Elementary. Amy Ferris says there was a huge learning curve because some students just learn better in person.

"It was gut-wrenching to hang up the phone with students knowing you've done your best to help them but hearing the frustration and the confusion in their voices," Amy Ferris said.

The Department of Education published guidelines for reopening schools for in-person learning which include temperature checks, staggered drop-offs and pickups, and strict sanitizing rules.

On Monday, Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Molly Gray held a press conference to bring attention to the need for universal high-speed broadband for Vermont students returning to school in the fall. Some educators who gathered at the press conference questioned the logistics of bringing students back for in-person instruction in the fall.

"How do you keep a mask on a first-grader? How do you manage complex pickup and drop-off situations that fluctuate daily? How many teams of individuals will it take for us to check in our student population each morning?" wondered Michael Livingston, the principal of Tunbridge Central School.

Some schools plan to rely on a mix of in-person and remote learning. And though many districts say they've worked out the kinks since the spring, some educators are still concerned.

Some teachers say the lack of broadband created inequitable learning conditions, only widening the urban and rural technological divide.

"If children aren't feeling content socially and emotionally, they can't learn. Isolation is hard to wrap your head around," Amy Ferris said.

Vermont is investing some $20 million of the federal $1.25 billion CARES Act toward rural broadband.

Top lawmakers say they would have preferred a bigger investment, but the broadband infrastructure has to be in place by the end of the year, so there just isn't enough time to build it all.

But as students, teachers and parents prepare for classes in the fall...

"We are going to need a tremendous amount of creativity and flexibility and cooperation as we help our school communities navigate the start of the next school year," Livingston said.

Also on Monday, Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Molly Gray urged lawmakers to adopt a universal broadband plan so all students can log into their classes this fall should classes go back online.