Education in Sunflower County’s public schools is going virtual once again.
Having not received in-person classroom instruction since the week before spring break in March, students will continue distance learning starting Sept. 8, according to Sunflower County Consolidated School District officials.
This news comes as several larger districts across the state announced plans to go completely virtual for either the first nine weeks or even longer for the 2020-21 school year.
Sociologists, child psychologists and even politicians have talked for months about the potential negative effects 100% virtual learning could have on students and academic achievement.
It is certainly not an ideal solution, and it is not the first choice of local district leaders.
The district was prepared to offer students a hybrid of virtual and on-campus instruction this fall.
There is a lot at stake for the students and the district.
Back in the spring, the Mississippi Department of Education issued waivers to school districts regarding the total number of days of classroom instruction and the dreaded spring state tests.
MDE will not issue a letter grade to districts for 2019-20 either.
As of right now, no waivers have been issued by MDE, which means that virtual learning or not, students will theoretically be tested next spring based on the instruction they receive remotely this fall.
At the same time, the district and its schools will be assessed based on the students’ performance.
This situation, however, does not spell all gloom and doom for districts like SCCSD.
It’s easy, based on what’s written above, to see the glass half empty, but there are some positives that can come from this.
For instance, the district was allotted over $2 million of funds from the CARES Act.
Prior to announcing plans for 100% distance learning, the district had already spent the vast majority of that funding on new computers for all SCCSD students and teachers, along with an investment in hotspots for each student.
While we hope that distance learning is a thing of the distant past by spring, the computers and the software that have been purchased for the students will come in handy well beyond this pandemic.
This is an opportunity for teachers to engage with their students on a whole new level academically.
We interviewed several teachers at the end of the last school term who said they began using the internet in their lessons because of COVID-19. YouTube, in particular, was used by several teachers to enhance education across the curriculum, from science to history.
These things are certainly not appropriate to take the place of classroom instruction, but they can be great supplements, even as traditional learning commences again in the future.
This situation could also forge better relationships between educators and families, which are often either strained or non-existent.
We spoke with Delta Health Alliance, which runs all Head Starts in Sunflower County, a few weeks ago about just that.
DHA said that relationships between the teachers and the families have grown stronger since the pandemic began.
Perhaps teachers will find themselves communicating with parents and guardians more often with a direct line to the household each day.
There are literally hundreds of things we can write about that will be negative drawbacks from this situation, from the loss of athletics to the lack of socialization among the students at school. But the reality is that more districts each day are choosing the virtual option.
There’s not much that can be done about it.
This is not going to be a walk in the park for students, teachers or parents, but we must learn to grasp the positives when we can in order to maintain a positive focus.