10 questions you should be asking about online learning; how to check for your district’s plans

School districts across the country are debating just how to go ahead with the school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic as parents are weighing the options of having children learn at home or sending them off to a very different school environment.

President Donald Trump has strongly advocated for a full fall reopening, pushing back against some of the advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that included mask-wearing, strict adherence to social distancing and the recommendation that students be put in small groups and stay only with those students throughout the day.

Several school districts have been forced to reverse earlier plans for in-person learning, switching now to online education. Plans that saw children coming back to schools amid strict rules have been set aside in favor of online learning as cases of the novel coronavirus have been on the uptick in some areas.

Nashville public schools announced that all public school classes will be online weeks after they had said a hybrid of online and in-person education would be available.

San Francisco school systems have also announced that learning will take place online instead of in-person until at least the end of the year, while Atlanta announced that it would spend at least the first nine weeks of the school year in online learning only.

While most of the country’s school systems had at least a taste of online learning in the spring when school buildings were closed due to the pandemic, a prolonged period of online learning is new to many parents.

‘How will it work?’, ‘What will the consequences to a student’s education be?’ and ‘How will parents who work outside of the home deal with it?’ are all questions that are swirling through homes across the country.

If you find yourself having to deal with a student who is learning at home, you are likely to have more questions than answers at the moment.

Below is a list of questions you may want to ask your local school board authorities as your child gets ready to return to learning.

    1. Will there be live, virtual instruction?

Does your school’s program include live instruction, or are students expected to direct themselves in their classwork, perhaps by watching instructional videos rather than doing daily assignments? While older children may be better able to work independently, younger students and those with attention deficit disorders will have a more difficult time with that type of learning.

    1. How safe is the technology my child will be using to learn online?

Will the technology needed for your child to interact with his or her school be secure? Will it have a clear privacy policy and policies that will keep students’ information safe? How will parents be able to monitor a student’s laptop? Will your child’s data be sold?

    1. Does your school offer print materials?

If you do not have reliable internet access, or if you are not comfortable with the way the online program is set up, you may be able to request paper materials for your child. Ask the school if they provide via a paper packet.

    1. How are your kids to be graded?

How will students be graded, or will they be? Many schools did not issue grades when they shut down in the spring – students passed whether or not they had turned in their assignments. Are students going to be expected to take national standardized tests? Will they be required to take tests at the school or will they take them online?

    1. How will special needs students be learning?

If your child has a special need, what will their learning environment look like? Will closed-captioning be available? Will students with speech deficits have one-on-one help with a speech pathologist?

    1. What will teachers not cover?

Will your school offer a virtual art class? Will they cover anything but the core classes? Can they? What about guidance counseling?

    1. How many hours do you expect students to spend on online coursework each day?

A lot will depend on how the material is being presented – whether it's by a teacher or is more self-directed using videos and other prepared lessons. Will students have six or more hours of structured classes?

    1. How do I track my child’s progress?

Will parents be sent emails to track their child’s progress? Will they be expected to sign off on a day’s or week’s work? What happens if your child falls behind or gets lost on a lesson? How often will I hear from my child’s teacher?

    1. What are some examples of typical assignments and deadlines?

Can you get a look at an example of an assignment to see what it would entail? An example of what is expected could give you a better idea of what is to come and how well your child will be able to handle it.

    1. Where can I find more information?

Is there a website you can go to to get the answer to some of these questions? If you have the option of going back to school or learning online, can you change your mind?

The situation at many school districts is fluid right now. Below are links to each state’s department of education, where information about your state and school district will be posted when final decisions about the school year are reached.

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