Over the last year, politicians on both sides of the aisle have debated about whether or not America’s youth should be returning to the classroom. Students were pulled out of school and forced to partake in “virtual learning” because of the COVID pandemic. Now that America seems on track to tackle the pandemic, schools across the nation are reopening. But, in the nation’s pandemic epicenter, New York City, a large majority of students are opting to continue remote learning.
According to The Wall Street Journal, 51,000 students returned to school on Monday for the first time since the U.S. went on lockdown. But 61% of the city’s students – 582,000 students – will continue learning virtually. NYC has the largest school system in America, with almost one million students.
“Many students took a pass on returning to classrooms during the final opt-in period of the school year. Some are worried about their health and safety and commuting, some have to take care of siblings, some are working at jobs, and some have just gotten into a routine learning remotely, teachers and parents say,” the WSJ reported.
At least one teacher, Peter O’Donnell, believes students and families will continue to choose remote learning as long as it’s offered. The only way to get back to a pre-COVID “normal” is to remove that option, O’Donnell said.
Part of that, O’Donnell explained, is because students have become accustomed to online schooling and the freedom it gives them.
“Many are just creating other lives for themselves,” he explained to the Journal. “I don’t think they have to be up at midnight, and I don’t think they should be working 30 hours a week, but a lot of them are doing that.”
Candace Hugee, a principal in Brooklyn, said that out of the school’s 350 students, only 40 have decided to return to in-person instruction. The driving factor behind the decision is based on childcare needs. Older kids, especially those who are in high school, typically babysit their younger siblings while their parents are at work.
“A school offers the same classes online and in-person,” Hugee said. “You don’t have enough teachers to have them do double duty. So some students say, ‘If I’m going to still come here and sit on a computer, I might as well do that at home.’”
Some parents, like Gwendolyn Livingstone, have seen the benefits of virtual learning. It’s something she wants to see remain intact, even after the pandemic ends.
“When they’re home, they can be one on one with you,” she told the New York Daily News. “They don’t have to be worrying about the hustle and bustle [of school]. They can take a break when they need to, talk to the teachers when they need to.”
“There should be an option” for virtual learning, Livingstone said. “It should be like that forever.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is working on a plan for all schools to reopen in-person instruction this fall.
“We don’t want to speak for all parents. We know that some of them may still have tremendous sensitivity and concern, and we are going to work with that,” de Blasio said last week. “But the goal is if every single one of our million children showed up, that we would be ready to accommodate that.”
“We’re preparing for the possibility that some parents may still want remote,” he said. “Either a kid’s in school five days a week period, or they’re remote five days a week, no more blended.”
Critics worry about the impact that virtual learning, especially when made permanent, will have on children. The lack of social interaction during COVID lockdowns has resulted in mental health issues and a number of kids committing suicide.
As The Daily Wire previously reported, the children’s hospital at the University of California-San Francisco saw a 66% uptick in emergency room visits for suicidal children and a 75% increase in the number of kids who were booked for mental health services. In Dane County, Wisconsin, the number of suicides rose 90% between March and October 2020, The Daily Wire reported. It’s for that very reason former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield advocated for schools to reopen last fall.
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