These days, it's impossible not to hear cries of “get kids back in school” and “we need to reopen schools.” These declarations certainly suggest that schools are closed.
In this era of alternative facts, there is some bizarre belief out there that, all over the nation, school leaders have decided just to skip this year, allowing teachers to take a long, paid vacation. Of course, that would mean students have a year of free time with no lessons to complete, no grades to earn and no chance of moving on to the next level next year.
I suppose that means that virtual school or remote learning will no longer be officially considered “school.” What does this mean for all the virtual schools that have been enrolling, teaching and graduating students for years?
Will all the students who have earned credits from virtual schools see their credits reversed and their diplomas voided?
Of course not.
Though arguably inferior to in-person classes, virtual school has been an educational option available to students for quite a while.
Educators from traditional, in-person, brick-and-mortar schools have long been cheerleaders for theirs as the best option for students – sensibly pointing to supporting research to back their claims.
For the vast majority of students, there is no equivalent alternative to the academic and social advantages offered by in-person classroom settings.
So, while virtual education is not the best option for most children, it is still a viable secondary option in circumstances where in-person learning is impractical or potentially unsafe.
It is worth pointing out that, until the COVID-19 pandemic, there weren't a lot of supportive voices joining the proponents of in-person school over virtual education; tax dollars in multiple states were siphoned from traditional schools and diverted to online schools under the guise of supporting “school choice” initiatives.
Some of the very same voices shouting about the need to reopen schools that are currently virtual – as if virtual school isn't really school – are the same voices that supported pre-pandemic virtual schools over traditional public schools in the first place.
So, to all the school districts that have had to instantly offer virtual instruction to students, compliments of the pandemic: thank you. Thank you for rushing to get resources and training to students, parents and teachers.
Thank you for finding creative ways to allow some students to return in person, from creating blended schedules of in-person and remote classes to finding unorthodox spaces for classrooms to allow for smaller class sizes and social distancing.
Thank you for implementing ever-changing public health recommendations from local, state and national health departments.
And thank you for offering virtual classes when in-person school posed too much of a risk to the adults and children of your communities.
Since public school funding isn't consistent, even within individual states, some school districts have been able to be more proactive against the spread of the virus.
To those districts, thank you for upgrading ventilation systems (if you could afford it), adding buses and drivers (if you could afford it), bringing in trailers for additional classroom space (if you could afford it), hiring extra teachers to lower class sizes (if you could afford it), providing free masks and hand sanitizer (if you could afford it), providing free breakfasts and lunches for remote students (if you could afford it), supplying computers and internet connectivity to students (if you could afford it), and being able to provide the safest possible environment for the children you serve.
By far, the biggest thank you of all should be reserved for teachers, the boots-on-the-ground first responders to the educational consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Teachers are working both in person and virtually, often at the same time.
They have been charged with mastering virtual technology that is only as good as the virtual framework supplied by their districts. They have had to become software experts and tech support for students and parents, all while implementing standards of best practices for remote learning in the lessons they design.
They are working nearly twice as many hours, typically for no additional pay, yet these are the teachers whom politicians and pundits often publicly disparage as “not wanting to work.”
Teachers who have returned to in-person classrooms have to implement and sustain pandemic protocols with children – cleanliness, social distancing, mask-wearing.
They have to modify their curriculum to adapt to those protocols (no group work, no shared supplies, etc.).
They risk exposure to COVID-19 every day; the safest and cleanest school buildings have no impact on what students are exposed to outside of school.
Teachers are being asked to risk their health, or the health of their loved ones, all while TV news and social media are full of ignorant vitriol claiming teachers just don't want to work.
While some states have prioritized vaccinating teachers, others (such as Indiana) have not made vaccinating teachers a priority.
Teachers have been ensuring the continuation of school all year, both virtually and in person, yet they and their professional associations are routinely and publicly disrespected for their efforts.
The next time you hear anyone say students need to get back in school, or that schools need to reopen, please remember that schools are open and performing miraculous feats to keep public education available to all.
Sandra Vohs is president of the Fort Wayne Education Association.