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Remote Learning: What Awaits Us in the Future?

by Angelie Rodriguez

On Monday, May 24th, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that public schools will be all in person this fall, leaving no remote option for students. However, this doesn’t mean that remote learning will be disappearing from our lives entirely.

Earlier on in the month, on May 4th, the Department of Education (DOE), now under Chancellor Meisha Porter, released the 2021-22 school year calendar. As students and staff scrolled through the rows of dates and descriptions, everything seemed normal. The only thing creating a ‘wow’ moment being the fact that Columbus Day was changed to Indigenous People’s Day.

However, everyone couldn’t help but notice the second bullet point on DOE’s website stating, “on ‘Snow days’ or days when school buildings are closed due to an emergency, all students and families should plan on participating in remote learning.” Not to mention the previous bullet point that saddingly states, “November 2, Election Day, will be a fully remote, asynchronous instructional day for all students.” The fact that election day will be asynchronous, meaning there will be no live instruction, provides some comfort to the slowly fading smiling faces of children and adults who were looking forward to a nice day off. Yet, it doesn’t dismiss the unfortunate reality that the days students and staff alike were most looking forward to, aside from their regularly scheduled holidays, have been snatched away from them and replaced with a day on the computer looking at a Zoom screen. This leaves people with the question: what is the future of remote learning? Is remote learning going to be a part of our lives forever?

According to the DOE, the reasoning behind the change is to ensure that schools are meeting the required 180 days in session, but this comes with some inconveniences. Not only are students missing out on much appreciated days off, but parents of younger children may have trouble finding childcare for them if they have to leave for work. Additionally, teachers may also have a difficult time adapting because they would be expected to develop a remote learning lesson plan on a day where there would be severe snowy weather, something that can’t exactly be predicted.

In a Daily Mail article, it states, “Several teachers pointed out how hard it is to plan an online lesson without much notice - exactly the scenario they would be in if a remote learning day was suddenly announced because of snow.” Furthermore, from the standpoint of students, not all children live in a home with reliable internet access or even a device for them to log onto a class. One person tweeted, “What about kids who can't access internet at home, or have a laptop at home... it's a snow day... y'all want them to walk somewhere??”

Reliable internet is already a struggle that students have daily. When storms hit, the internet connection is generally worse than usual. Combine that with the thousands of students using it, and you have Zoom lag, internet crashes, and the annoying event of being booted out of a Zoom class.

There is not only the logistical part of the situation, but there is also the fact that snow days were originally a day out of the normally stressful school year to have a fun day in the winter. Students and staff look forward to curling up on the couch with a cup of hot cocoa, watching a movie or two, reading a good book while buried in layers of blankets, and even going out to have a snowball fight while the snow is still fresh. Unfortunately, that won’t be possible anymore. People can’t help but wonder what remote learning will look like in the future, and if doing class on a computer is something that will remain in our lives for years to come.

In an article titled “Remote Learning Will Continue Growing over the Next Three Years” by The Journal, it states “Sixty-three percent of respondents to a summer survey by interactive display company Promethean reported that they expect remote learning to experience the biggest growth, followed by virtual learning (54 percent) and the use of online content and resources (50 percent).”

Specifically, regarding schools, the pandemic, and the new update from the mayor, parents are left to worry if it will truly be safe for their children to return to school for in-person learning. These are valid concerns as Covid-19 is still continuing to spread and the current school year is coming to an end. The mayor advocates for a full reopening by saying, “It’s time for everyone to come back, it’s time for us all to be together. It’s time to do things the way they were meant to be done. All the kids in the classroom together getting a great education from educators who care, staff members who care." He adds on by stating, “We can’t live in the grip of COVID the rest of our lives, it is going to be in our past as a crisis. It may be yet another disease out there like the flu and other things but it will be manageable.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo seems to also be on board, saying that unless there is a dramatic trajectory of Covid-19 cases, there should be no reason why schools shouldn’t open this fall.

While some people were surprised by the mayor’s sudden announcement, East Side’s Assistant Principal Joseph Vincente was not: “As the number of vaccinated individuals continues to rise and because vaccines have become available for 12+, I was not personally surprised by this announcement considering the mayor and governor have continued moving forward with reopening across the board and the lessening of mask restrictions by the CDC.”

However, despite this, there are still many troubled parents that understandably, don't seem to be very convinced that it is totally safe for students to go back to school. Not all children are eligible to get vaccinated, which doesn’t guarantee their full protection against Covid, and there is the obvious concern of how social distancing can be maintained with buildings at full capacity.

In the case of East Side, the school houses both middle school and high school students, creating a larger population than what would be seen in most regular high schools. When teachers and staff are included, it just creates a greater amount of density. There is also the fact that some students have serious medical conditions that would hinder them from being in person, so parents indeed have a right to be unsettled by the idea of all students returning in the fall.

Joseph Vincente said, “Our Health and Safety Committee will continue to follow all state, federal, and city guidelines with regards to in-person learning next fall. Whatever the guidelines are set in place by the DOE for the fall, East Side will continue to practice any recommended social distancing, mask wearing, ventilation, etc. The DOE and city have not yet announced some details, but we hope to learn more in the next few weeks.”

The future of remote learning and schools as a whole is clearly still foggy. Will students be able to opt into remote learning in the fall? Will the DOE convert other specific days into remote learning now that they see that it is possible? How will the many changes occuring continue to affect students, staff, and parents as well? The answers to these questions are still unclear, especially amid an ever-changing health crisis.

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