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Two months ago, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement, “Schools have shown that they can – and should – be offering in-person learning opportunities five days a week to every student.” But yesterday while visiting a high school in the Bronx he was asked about rising COVID numbers and how this alarming trend would affect school openings, Cardona was equivocal: “School reopening will depend on community spread,” he replied. “Let’s be very clear. If the community spread is high, it is going to impact whether or not the schools can be open.”
The times are a’changing and so is COVID. There’s a swelling movement in New Jersey to have the state offer an option of remote instruction, especially after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that young children are at risk of becoming severely ill from the delta variant. Yet the NJ Education Department’s “Road Forward” document says all districts “must plan to provide full-day, full-time, in-person instruction and operations for the 2021-2022 school year.” (Some superintendents are reporting that DOE officials are saying if a student has to quarantine the district must provide virtual or remote instruction.) And Gov. Phil Murphy, even while COVID cases creep up, is still sticking by his May directive that “we know that we can get back fully in person, safely, with the right protocols in place.”
But can we? Wishing doesn’t make it so.
Some folks have asked whether other states or large cities are allowing virtual options and whether other families share the sentiments of a group called New Jersey Parent for Virtual Choice, which has 13,000 signatures on a petition pleading with Murphy for a virtual instruction option. Here are 3 data points on what other states are doing and 3 data points on how parents feel about sending their children back to classrooms.
- According to the Associated Press, 38 states have approved permanent virtual learning schools after the COVID-19 pandemic led to increased interest in at-home learning. For example, Florida Virtual School (FLVS) operates as a statewide school district, offering full- and part-time online schooling to any student in the state. Indianapolis is offering parents the option of two virtual charter schools. In Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite expanded the district virtual school, Philadelphia Virtual Academy, after a survey found that 8,000 families want a remote option.
- The Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) is maintaining a database that keeps a running tally on each state’s school COVID rules; those rules are rapidly changing as cases rise. While a number of states are giving districts the option of offering remote instruction (either they were from the beginning or have switched a “no” to a “yes, if you have to”), New Jersey’s directive hasn’t changed. In CRPE’s category on “the state’s recommendations for reopening schools for the 2021-2022 SY based on local public health conditions,” New Jersey’s column says, “All New Jersey schools will return to in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year.”
The latest from our database of 100 district plans:
– The # of districts offering a virtual learning option has nearly doubled
– Nearly all districts have mask policies + far more now require masks
– Vaccine requirements are rare but gaining momentumhttps://t.co/bgLANtPq1m pic.twitter.com/qmEcPNqmAt
— Center on Reinventing Public Education (@CRPE_edu) August 13, 2021
- Yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported that some districts that had opened schools “are already reverting to virtual learning for those children stuck at home due to Covid-19.”
What about parent sentiment outside the Garden State?
- A national survey from Rand finds about 20% of both Black and Hispanic parents were most hesitant about sending their children back for in-person schooling in fall 2021.
- Another national survey from the University of Southern California found that two-thirds of parents intend to sent their children back and 23% are undecided. “Overall, concerns due to an in-person return to school in the fall is quite high among parents, with 73% reporting they’re somewhat to very concerned compared to only 13% who are not.” Overall, 38.2% of parents would prefer a remote option.
- Back in New Jersey, Chalkbeat quotes Newark mother Yolanda Johnson, who founded Parents Engaging Parents, and says a number of families she knows are considering homeschooling to avoiding sending their children back to traditional classrooms. “I wish that the decision makers in New Jersey would do a mass outreach to parents to allow us to weigh in,” she said. “You can’t just make a decision without both of us sitting at the table and sorting things out together.”