The beginning of the pandemic brought many academic semesters to a complete halt in the 2019-2020 school year. College campuses were forced to close down, students were sent home, and online learning became the norm for all students. Final exams, standardized testing, and classes were held virtually. Although a majority of students have access to remote learning resources such as a stable internet connection, a computer, and a webcam, virtual classrooms are not as effective as in-person classes. After considering the situation at hand, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has decided to endorse an academic setting where students are “physically present in school” for the 2020-2021 academic semester. The main factor behind their decision were the consequences of remote learning.

The AAP cites factors affecting students living at home to be the most impactful on remote education. Students become socially isolated and no longer receive any support from school resources. These resources include meals provided by the school, counselors, interaction with peers, amongst others. Additionally, learning from a computer screen makes it harder for teachers to pinpoint which students are falling behind in learning and what topics students are struggling with. Not to mention, it is also harder for teachers to help students who have dangerous home environments. Students who have learning or cognitive disabilities will have a harder time adjusting to remote learning. The consequences on children who are still developing mentally are more severe than older students. For younger children, school allows them to develop socially: understanding social norms and how to interact with peers. Overall, remote learning has the potential to negatively impact students educationally, socially, and physically.

The socioeconomic disparity is highlighted with online learning. Only families that can afford to own technological resources are equipped to effectively learn online. Schools in low-income areas may not have the funding necessary to send laptops to all the students who need them. Additionally, students who rely on school meals for nutrition because they live in food insecure families are unable to receive their daily meals. The low-income families most likely have parents who work multiple jobs and are unable to afford to find a caretaker. For many families, remote learning has a much harder toll on them economically.

Different states are approaching the incoming school year differently. For Baltimore county and city, schools are opting to reopen 100% virtually at first. Baltimore County Public School has set six goals to meet for the school year in their Reopening Plan, including: promoting “the health, welfare, and safety” of students, staff and families while “maximizing learning” and prioritizing “social-emotional learning.” They plan on mitigating “educational inequities” and providing “additional supports and… learning opportunities for the students who need them most.” Similarly, Baltimore City Schools’s Draft Reopening Plan starts off the school year completely virtually, looking to open up schools in the spring semester. The plan notes that the “most vulnerable students, especially [their] black and brown students, are most in danger of being left behind” by remote learning, pointing at the education inequities exacerbated by online school. In general, both plans recognize the problems with online learning, but prioritize the health and well-being of their students and staff in order to segue into a safe return to normalcy.

In comparison, other states are facing backlash for having a remote learning plan for this coming school year. In Florida, school districts that are opting for a remote year are facing pressure from the governor Ron DeSantis. DeSantis is threatening to cut state funding from schools that do not plan on reopening in the fall. Florida’s coronavirus cases are notably on the rise, and students, staff, and family alike all fear what reopening may bring about. Meanwhile,  the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is strongly citing schools to base their plans off of science and safety. Essentially, schools are under strong pressure from parents, students, and state powers to come to a decisive decision that supports students academically and healthily.

Guest Blogger: Celina Liu

Aug 20, 2020