While Douglas County parents, students and teachers have varying opinions on whether it’s a good idea to start in-person school, wear face masks or whether COVID-19 is to be taken seriously, most agree that distance learning last spring was not good.
“Distance learning was a joke,” said Sutherlin parent Micheal Bochart. “My third-grade daughter had a video call with her class three times a week. All they did was play, ‘I spy in the house.’ Absolutely NO teaching or instruction was involved. Only worksheets were assigned as well as some assignments from ‘school-used’ websites that were more games than anything. I feel my daughter suffered educationally and I fear for what will happen if school resumes this way in the Fall!”
The News-Review posted a survey online about a week ago to see how students, parents and teachers felt about distance learning and plans for the 2020-2021 school year. The survey, created by The Oregonian/OregonLive, was sent out by several publications throughout the state as part of an initiative by Oregon education reporters to share information and resources.
Several high school students responded to the survey and overwhelmingly shared that distance learning didn’t work for them in the spring and they wanted to go back to school.
“The distance learning did not work for me whatsoever,” said Roseburg High School student Kassie Johnson. “Not all the teachers really cared so it made it extremely difficult to be motivated to do the work when a teacher didn’t care.”
South Umpqua High School student Josie Maddux said she was confused by distance learning and the stress of doing work through electronics caused her daily headaches.
“I was a 4.0 student all through high school until distant learning,” said Oakland High School student Johanna Simonson. “I barely passed my classes. It was very difficult to understand the concepts with poor connection and being as I learn better with a whole class asking and answering questions, it was very hard.”
Simonson said she had the benefit of having a parent who’s also a teacher, but couldn’t imagine what it would’ve been like if she had to do it on her own.
Most schools throughout Oregon have since announced that they will start the school year with comprehensive distance learning.
“I think that starting the school year with distance learning is setting a LOT of students up for failure,” Johnson said. “How are we going to be expected to do the work that we are given by a teacher who we have probably not met or had a class with? If we ever get to go back to school, how are we going to be expected to sit at a desk and do our work while we are basically suffocating in masks? I don’t believe that us students should be required to wear masks.”
Administrators and teachers say distance learning in the fall will look different from what was taught in the spring.
“The spring was a global pandemic,” Roseburg teacher Katherine Mahoney said. “We had to transition to online education virtually overnight. It is not any reflection of what thoughtfully planned distance learning can look like.”
Roseburg parent Nicole Leroue said she hoped the new distance learning will be more organized, easier for parents to understand and include all subjects.
“The way the remote learning was in March was an utter disaster, the lessons we received were made up, wasn’t even apart of the curriculum and my son or myself never even heard from his math/science teacher at all,” Leroue said. “If it wasn’t for me purchasing my own textbooks my son would have been really behind in his work. The school district really failed all of the kids and parents with the pandemic school work.”
Erika Chapman is a parent to a newborn and a toddler. She said instead of starting kindergarten, her son will start school online.
“I have a lot of questions and very few answers on how my school district plans to help my child learn best,” Chapman said. “I do not feel the new environment we will have to provide for our children to learn in, especially our special needs children will serve them best. I don’t feel masks and plexiglass are the ideal environment to best help my autistic child learn things like social skills.”
When the coronavirus first hit Oregon in March, Roseburg parent Erin Graham was temporarily laid off from her job. She started working full time again in mid-May, but everything has shifted for her and her family.
“We have had to entirely rework how we write our management schedule and staff our restaurant each shift, every day just to work around our childcare,” Graham said. “Although I greatly admire and applaud my son’s school for the amazing efforts they went through in the drop of a hat to help our young ones succeed, it was a lot to take on as a parent who was suffering from the uncertainty of what was going on in the world and the loss of a career.”
While struggling to keep with the sadness of losing her career and everything she worked for, trying to come up with a new routine that involved helping teach her son was not an easy task.
“There were tears from both of us on a regular basis,” Graham said. “We pushed through and got it done but with the arguing and struggle to keep him motivated, I don’t know that he actually retained anything.”
She hopes her son will go back to school for several reasons, but mostly she’s more concerned with the quality of education than the risk of getting coronavirus.
“I want my son to have every opportunity possible but it really takes a toll on my mind knowing I can’t be the teacher mom he needs me to be. I just don’t know how!,” she said. “I need some training on how to teach him all these essentials that teachers go to school to make their life long pursuit!”
Roseburg parent Billy Little said distance learning worked fine for his family in the spring.
“I have an advantage of not needing child care and the proper technology/tools access, so I feel it’s unfair to throw my two cents on this because it was fine for my child and I,” Little said. “I’d love to continue distance learning with an improved program from the schools.”
Little said he doesn’t feel comfortable with schools reopening until the pandemic is under control. “The idea of a potential outbreak at school will bring it home to the families who go to work and putting teachers in a potential outbreak scenario is unacceptable and completely avoidable.”
Leroue said she was not comfortable sending her son back to school. “I will not risk my son’s health,” she said, adding that she hoped school districts would have the option for parents who felt the same way.
A Winston-Dillard School District employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said they’re concerned about the affects school closures have on the older students. “We are going to see far more teen deaths due to suicide, drugs, and alcohol, etc. than we would ever see from this virus. Why aren’t we talking about these long term affects? My kids need to be in the classroom they need to see the adults and teachers that they look up to.”
Roseburg Education Association President Camron Pope said in a survey of a small group of teachers the majority felt somewhat comfortable going back to school. Pope didn’t respond to the newspaper survey but was interviewed for background information on the topic.
Pope said the association and school district have an impeccable working relationship and are working closely together amid the pandemic.
“As parents we need to let our kids live a little,” Winston parent Dan Frownfelter said. “When I was a kid my parents put me in a room with other kids that had chicken pox and measles, my kids are smart enough to respect others space and distance.”
Roseburg High School student Kaylea Frost said COVID-19 doesn’t scare her.
“It’s just a virus. Some panic, some don’t. I’m the one that isn’t worried about it,” Frost said. “They say that education is valuable hands-on K-3, I think all grades need hands on. It’s very difficult to learn math online and no teacher to help you walk through the steps.”
All students surveyed indicated that they’d much rather return to school, because they felt the risk of them getting sick was low.
“My parents and I are willing to even sign a waiver to return,” Maddux said. “I think it’s time we gain herd immunity and realize this is a part of our everyday lives, we can’t stop our lives for a virus. It’s time to get back into a normal pattern!”
Mahoney is concerned about the risk of opening schools creates for her as a teacher. Without the school district’s liability coverage she’s afraid she can be sued if there is an outbreak, or if be unable to pay her bills if she gets sick.
“I’m a single gal 3,000 miles from home. I don’t have family,” Mahoney said. “I could quite seriously become homeless if I caught COVID from school and was so sick I used up all my personal leave and had to take unpaid leave.”
Mahoney also said distance learning is much hard to prepare and plan and asks parents and students to be respectful.
“Teachers work so hard for our students. We want what is best for them,” she said. “Please don’t be angry at teachers that you no longer have childcare; be angry that the government and your employer are not supporting working-class families with childcare stipends or paid time off.”