Ask parents Scott Pope and Matthew Mizenko to rate Northshore School District’s first day of remote learning, and you’ll get two very different answers.
At the Pope household in Bothell, Monday went remarkably smoothly: While the parents worked elsewhere in the home, the kids sat with their friends in their rooms and in the kitchen. Together, they watched live videos of their teachers and filled out worksheets together.
But in the Mizenko home in Woodinville, 6-year-old Bjorn’s schooling was limited to the amount of time his father could break away from work calls to keep him on track — resulting in an entire school day boiled down to two to three hours.
For at least the next two weeks, these two families and others across the district of nearly 24,000 students will swap daily classroom instruction for virtual assignments and video conferencing, a decision made in an effort to protect students and the larger community from the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Some lauded the decision to close schools for an extended period of time and provide online learning instead as a vital public safety measure. But others, including the state Education Department, have cautioned school districts to think about whether an online-only model could serve all students equitably.
Though relatively well off, Northshore has made headlines before for its efforts to include families who rely heavily on its services when it closes. When snow made roads un-navigable for many families in early 2019, district employees used vans to drive food their way, an effort officials are replicating for this year’s closures.
Anticipating that some kids and families might not have access to the internet or a computer, the district has also issued thousands of laptops and Wi-Fi hot spots for those who need it.
But these efforts, while significant among Puget Sound region districts, can’t replace other parts of school that are critical to students, especially those with disabilities like Bjorn, who have a hard time focusing without supervision from adults.
“Unless one of us is sitting with him the whole time, he’s not getting much of an education,” said Mizenko. “Some of the videos they had him watch were on YouTube, where he can easily see Frozen 2 clips on the side bar. And the next thing we know, we hear ‘Into the Unknown’ for the 15th time.”
The district said it is currently working to iron out these concerns.
“Our team in the Special Education Department continues problem solving issues and concerns from parents and guardians,” Northshore spokeswoman Lisa Youngblood Hall wrote in an email. “In the meantime, we encourage any parents or guardians who need support to connect directly with their teacher.”
In its initial announcement of the transition to online learning, Northshore Superintendent Michelle Reid said instructors would “make every effort” to support students with disabilities. She added that the district planned to assess whether this actually happened once in-person classes resumed.
For parents with older, tech-savvy kids like Scott Pope, the transition hasn’t been as bumpy for the most part — though a few noted that the district could be using fewer online platforms to deliver material to make things less scattered. He said he and his wife popped in a few times to check if the kids needed food or drinks, but apart from that, they worked independently.
Pope’s daughter, Allison, an eighth grader at Leota Middle School, said Monday was “a lot simpler than actually going to school.” Teachers took attendance via Google forms. Google Classroom, a platform Allison had already used to turn in history assignments, was easy to get the hang of.
Some are taking advantage of the flexibility that remote classrooms offer. Kirsten Mullins said her family will fly to Hawaii, where, with the help of a new router they just purchased, both the adults and kids will work online.