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Online schools are here to stay, even after the pandemic

In December, Bloomington Public Schools decided to keep running the online school even after the pandemic subsides. Lisa Levin plans to re-enroll Rory for this fall.

By: New York Times |
April 12, 2021 11:29:03 am
Even as students flock back to classrooms, a subset of families who have come to prefer online learning are pushing to keep it going — and school systems are rushing to accommodate them. (Representational)

Rory Levin, a sixth grader in Bloomington, Minnesota, used to hate going to school. He has a health condition that often makes him feel apprehensive around other students. Taking special-education classes did little to ease his anxiety.

So when his district created a stand-alone digital-only program, Bloomington Online School, last year for the pandemic, Rory opted to try it. Now the 11-year-old is enjoying school for the first time, said his mother, Lisa Levin. He loves the live video classes and has made friends with other online students, she said.

In December, Bloomington Public Schools decided to keep running the online school even after the pandemic subsides. Lisa Levin plans to re-enroll Rory for this fall.

“It is such a good fit for him,” she said. “We’re really hoping they can continue it for the rest of his school career.”

A year after the coronavirus set off a seismic disruption in public education, some of the remote programs that districts intended to be temporary are poised to outlast the pandemic. Even as students flock back to classrooms, a subset of families who have come to prefer online learning are pushing to keep it going — and school systems are rushing to accommodate them.

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The districts are racing to set up full-fledged online schools even as concerns mount that remote learning has taken a substantial toll on many children’s academic progress and emotional health. Parents and lawmakers, alarmed by the situation, have urged schools to reopen.

Even so, at least several hundred of the nation’s 13,000 school districts have established virtual schools this academic year, with an eye to operating them for years to come, education researchers said. Unlike many makeshift pandemic school programs, these stand-alone virtual schools have their own teachers, who work only with remote students and use curricula designed for online learning.

Yet a surge of online schools comes with risks. It could normalize remote learning approaches that have had poor results for many students, education researchers said. It could also further divide a fragile national education system, especially when many Asian, Black and Latino families have been wary of sending their children back to school this year.

“My fear is that it will lead to further fracturing and fragmentation,” said Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

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