With remote education set to begin, Lawrence teachers and parents are wary but focused on making it work

photo by: Nick Krug/Journal-World File Photo

Lawrence Public Schools district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.

As parents in the Lawrence school district wait to hear plans regarding the resumption of the school year through remote learning, some are wary of the loss of the social aspects of school, as students will be mostly learning from home.

Meanwhile, teachers are concerned the new remote learning operation may be stressful for everyone involved, including teachers who are parents of students themselves.

But no matter the plan, both teachers and parents told the Journal-World this week they will need to work together to make an uncertain situation as stable as possible.

“We’ve got to work with our parents and with our district to make sure whatever we do together is best for the kids,” said Jeff Dickson, a technology teacher at Lawrence High School.

In light of Gov. Laura Kelly ordering all school buildings closed for the remainder of the spring semester to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, Kansas schools are working out plans to begin remote teaching for the rest of the school year.

A state task force on Thursday issued guidelines to Kansas school districts that give a general outline for how they should enact those plans. The Lawrence school district is expected to roll out its plan soon in order to resume instruction on March 30, district officials previously said.

Topher Enneking, a parent of a first-grade student at Pinckney Elementary, called the social interactions students receive in schools their “hidden curriculum.” With most classes moving to remote learning, those social lessons will mostly not be available for the rest of the school year.

Enneking said social interaction at school is important because it’s how young people learn to be part of a larger society.

“We rely on schools to teach our children on how to be citizens and human beings together,” Enneking said. “There is no amount of online learning that can make up for that.”

To make up for that lost time in school, Enneking said parents may need to help pick up the slack for teachers and use the pandemic as an opportunity to teach their children about social issues. He said the pandemic is a good example of how people need to work together to overcome problems, and that’s an important lesson for children to learn.

“That’s how we all make it through tough times — having the help of each other,” Enneking said.

Dickson said he agrees there is much more to schools than just “book learning.” Along with the academic lessons, schools often provide students with food and emotional support while supporting other needs.

The Lawrence school district has recently stepped up on at least one of those issues. Amid the school closures, the school district began providing free meals to students who needed it. The district set up sack lunch pick up stations at various school buildings and even added a delivery system earlier this week.

Many of the people volunteering for the program are the teachers themselves, said Laurie Folsom, a Free State High School teacher and president of the local teachers union.

“I think that reflects how much they care about their students,” Folsom said of the teachers volunteering.

While the community coming together to help one another during a difficult time is a bright spot, both Folsom and Dickson said they know the teaching and learning is going to be tough.

They both said the situation could lead to students falling behind what is expected to move onto the next grade.

Although Dickson said he believes it will be relatively simple for some teachers to move classes online with the technology that is available, he said he understands it will not be able to create an ideal learning situation.

Dickson, who has a 10-year-old daughter educated in another school district, said he’s “extremely concerned” about her education during this time. It could also be much more difficult for students with special needs, Folsom said.

In the fall, when the school year is just beginning, the education community often has to deal with what it refers to as the “summer slide.” That’s when students over summer break seem to lose some of what they were taught and educators need to refresh that content in the first few weeks of a new school year.

Folsom said the slide is particularly prevalent for students in special education. She said teachers have expressed concerns that it could be much worse than normal with remote learning for a quarter of the 2019-2020 school year right before summer break.

“There is a certain amount of social (interaction) you have to get right before kids are open to learning,” she said. “For the special education population, that’s even more true.”

Jackie Oster, a parent of a sixth-grade student at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, said parents are also worried about the amount of content students will learn. She said the new plan will put a lot of responsibility on families to make sure their children are participating and learning enough.

When you add that to the uncertainty the coronavirus pandemic is creating in other aspects of life, such as a looming recession and parents struggling to work from home, it can add “a lot of weight and a lot of stress,” she said.

Oster said she already knows some families who are struggling with students not attending class at their school buildings. But she said she’s also already seen teachers make a commitment to ensure students will continue to learn this spring.

“I am confident that they are going to do everything in their power during this situation to make it the best they can,” Oster said. “I really do.”

Enneking, too, has faith in the teachers, adding he knows the parents will have a responsibility to work with them to ensure the students are learning. He said he believes the Lawrence school district has a highly skilled faculty that is passionate and equipped to work through the problem.

“I think they are up for the challenge of finding a way to do it,” he said.

That may be an important lift for teachers, many of whom are also in a tight spot at home.

When the state outlined guidelines on how to operate continued education plans amid the pandemic, the task force asked teachers to “give grace” to the students and parents who are trying to wade through the uncertainty.

Folsom said she hopes parents return the favor, as many teachers are parents themselves and will need to focus on their own children along with their students. Additionally, she said many teachers are also facing difficult home situations, as some are in self-quarantine and others are caring for relatives amid the pandemic.

“There’s a lot going on in the life of teachers,” Folsom said. “We just hope people recognize putting in an eight-hour duty day during this time (means) we need grace, as well.”

More coverage: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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What to do if you think you may have COVID-19

Patients who have symptoms — difficulty breathing, cough and fever — should stay home, immediately isolate themselves from others and call their health care providers. Patients should never show up unannounced at a medical office or hospital. Instead, they should call ahead to explain their symptoms and give health care workers the ability to minimize the risk to others.

If patients do not have health care providers, they may call the Lawrence Douglas-County health department’s coronavirus line, 785-856-4343.

For updated information on the outbreak, Kansas residents can email COVID-19@ks.gov or call 866-534-3463 (866-KDHEINF), which is staffed 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

More information can be found through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website or the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health website.

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