Since Maine schools first closed in March, the estimate for their reopening was pushed back more than once. Few were surprised when word finally came down that the doors would not be reopening this school year. But at least things will get back to normal this fall, right? Right?!? Maybe not.
Officials with the California State University system, the country’s largest four-year public university system, indicated last week that in-person classes would be canceled for the fall semester, with nearly all instruction taking place online. Marc Gousse, superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, told the school system board last week that he and other administrators are working on contingency plans should remote learning in some capacity continue into the new school year.
So much for getting back to normal.
September is months away and much can change in that time. Educators plan long in advance curriculums, calendars, testing and use of school facilities. So it was nothing short of a herculean effort when teachers quickly pivoted to remote learning this spring. Some were better equipped to do so than others and the results have been mixed. All seem to be trying hard to maintain a connection with students, conduct lessons and at the very least prevent kids from losing educational ground. Kudos to them for making the best of a bad situation.
The pandemic has been hard on parents as well. Many have their own work to perform and must now bid, bribe or outright beg reluctant new homeschoolers to complete their assignments. Those with essential work outside the home have had to arrange child care at a time when kids aren’t even supposed to be spending time with grandma. Kids, markedly resilient creatures, have not had it easy either. No usual routines, friends or sports; no birthday parties, field trips or prom. The needs of children with disabilities in particular cannot adequately be met remotely.
Under Governor Mills’ current plans for a gradual reopening in Maine, summer camps will be allowed to open. Assuming COVID-19 cases don’t skyrocket, it would be puzzling indeed to send kids to camp but keep them out of school in the fall.
Reopening schools safely must be the goal, but officials must also plan for other contingencies. Children have a right to an education. If there is even a chance remote learning will continue into the fall, it must be done better. High-speed internet access for all students and support for parents is critical. It is unsustainable and unreasonable to expect parents to work full time, parent and teach. It’s a testament to the resilience of all involved that the current system has worked this long.