Can Students Handle Another Year of Distance Learning?

Boy wearing headphones while using laptop during homework at home

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Key Takeaways

  • Distance learning is 100% remote learning. Many school districts across the country are opting for this type of learning option for the upcoming school year.
  • While distance learning is the best way to reduce the spread of COVID-19, it presents a unique set of challenges for working parents.
  • Kids from low-income families may struggle the most due to lack of available resources, and could fall behind academically as a result of another school year of distance learning.

When students across the country were abruptly shifted to remote learning in March 2020, no one really thought the situation would endure into another school year. Yet, here we are, most of the way through the summer, with many kids starting school in the coming days. And with little to no resolution to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students are facing at least another semester of distance learning.

Without a doubt, online learning is an effective course of action to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. “While many argue that the risks of COVID-19 for school-aged children are minimal, we don’t really know all that much about this virus yet,” says Christopher Rim, founder and CEO of Command Education, an online tutoring program.

“Some kids are asymptomatic and others are becoming very ill. More importantly, asymptomatic kids are vectors. Reopening schools puts students, teachers, staff and administrators, and all of their families at risk,” says Rim.

But there are other considerations, like kids’ social development, mental health concerns, and socioeconomic disparity, to name a few. And as the pandemic stretches on, these issues have come to the forefront of worried parents’ minds.

What This Means For You

Even if your school system has opted to send kids back to school in the fall, an outbreak of COVID-19 could cause widespread shutdowns. This will likely cause a switch to distance learning. It's important to go into the upcoming school year with an open mind and a back-up plan due to this ever-changing situation.

Why Schools Are Turning to Distance Learning

When the novel coronavirus first spread through the United States, many figured the virus would be abated by warm summer temperatures, similar to viruses like colds and flu. Sadly, that’s not been the case. Instead, the U.S. saw a record increase in cases in nearly 40 states in late June and early July, with several states continuing to see new cases in the thousands with each passing day.

With many government officials urging schools to reopen at all costs (including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC), tensions are running high. Parents have engaged in heated debates between those who want schools open and those who don’t. With health experts learning more (and often contradictory) information by the day, school districts across the country have found themselves in a difficult position this summer.

However, in a situation where it’s impossible to please everyone, what’s certain is that another year of distance learning—and even a hybrid model of distance and in-person learning—allows us to mitigate the risk of increased COVID-19 rates that would likely accompany school’s reopening, Rim says. As of early August, 13 of the 15 largest school districts in the U.S. have opted to begin the school year this fall with distance learning only.

Many American Families Don’t Want Another Year of Distance Learning

Of course, keeping their kids safe is still a top priority for American parents. But not many want to sign up for a situation similar to this past spring, where parents were pushed to the breaking point trying to hold down jobs from home and serve as full-time teachers for their children. While some large companies are allowing employees to work remotely for many more months, other employers are opening their doors again, and expecting employees to return.

That creates a difficult situation for parents who have relied on public education for their kids during the day, along with extracurriculars like sports or other after-school programs. With many of these activities modified or cancelled, what are working parents to do? Many parents are already grappling with how to find (and afford) childcare, becoming increasingly frustrated by a situation with no easy answers.

The Socioeconomic Divide

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg for low-income families, who have faced incredible challenges during the pandemic. Losing the support of public schools has only exacerbated an already bad situation.

“Some of these students don’t have access to the technology necessary for remote learning, or they have to work to help their families—whether providing childcare for younger siblings or earning money to help financially,” says Rim.

“In many of these cases, parents are at work and aren’t home to provide the support students may otherwise receive from teachers and aides," says Rim. "This is the population who will greatly suffer from another year of distance learning.”

Navigating Distance Learning Successfully

Although distance learning may cause hardship, it’s time to start formulating a plan for how your family will deal with it come fall. Yes, things will be complicated. But this can be an opportunity to rely on your family and community to get through it.

  • Form a learning pod. This idea has popped up as a result of #quarantine2020. It’s a small group of families who essentially share the burden of having kids doing 100% remote learning by alternating among houses. This allows parents to work uninterrupted at least a few days each week (or more, if they choose to hire a teacher or tutor to supervise the children's schooling).
  • Set up a designated space. By the end of the spring semester, you likely felt lucky if your kids weren’t completing their lessons on the roof! This fall, set up a designated workspace for each child based on what you’ve learned about how they work best. Having their own space can help get your kids excited for learning each day. If you are working from home, it's crucial to have a designated space for yourself, too.
  • Use a rewards system. Having trouble motivating your little learners? Institute a rewards system that everyone agrees on and looks forward to. It doesn’t have to be huge—just something to get through the inevitable rough spots.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Christin Perry
Christin Perry is a freelance writer and editor. Her work has been published in The Bump, The Knot, Scary Mommy, LittleThings, Parents, Qeepsake, and more. She has experience writing email marketing campaigns, website copy, and SEO-optimized content. Christin is also a mom of three.