Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday March 12, 2020
As virus outbreak spreads, schools face a dilemma
When the new coronavirus surfaced at Saint Raphael Academy after a school group returned from a trip to Italy, officials decided to close the Rhode Island Catholic high school for two weeks.
Instead of cancelling classes, the school in Pawtucket instituted “virtual days” where students are expected to work from home, check for assignments through an online portal and occasionally chat with teachers.
A few miles away, a public charter school also closed after a teacher who attended the same Italy trip awaited test results. But at Achievement First, the two days off were treated like snow days — no special assignments and no expectation that kids keep up their schoolwork.
As more schools across the United States close their doors because of the coronavirus, they are confronted with a dilemma in weighing whether to shut down and move classes online, which could leave behind the many students who don’t have computers, home internet access or parents with flexible work schedules. As the closures accelerate, children at some schools, like Saint Raphael, will be able to continue some form of learning, while children at schools with fewer technological or other resources, may simply miss out.
The deep technological and wealth gap that exists nationwide between poor and affluent students has made the coronavirus outbreak even more challenging for school officials, who are wrestling with not only health and safety decisions but also questions about the ethics of school closures.
These deliberations have been playing out in schools all around the country during the outbreak, from urban districts in New York, Seattle and Los Angeles to rural ones in Nebraska and Pennsylvania.
“If we shut down for a week or two weeks, and some of the kids can do it but some can’t, what do you do?” said Edward Albert, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools. “There are some places that don’t even have phone service.”
Although widespread closures are a new development in the United States, they are already a reality in nations that have been hit harder by the virus. The United Nations’ education agency, UNESCO, says nearly 300 million children in 22 countries on three continents were being affected by school closures last week. In response, it has begun supporting online learning programs. (PBS)
Meanwhile, Ontario’s elementary teachers are set to resume contract talks with the government on Wednesday, but they’re warning that if bargaining doesn’t produce an agreement, the union will resume job action after March break. (CBC)