Four metro area school districts — Millard, Bellevue, Westside and Papillion La Vista — say they have no plans to bring back remote learning next school year.
That’s a promising sign of a possible return to normalcy next fall, though there are too many unknowns to say with certainty what school will look like when kids come back in August.
Spokespersons for the Omaha Public Schools and several other metro area districts indicated they have not decided on the fate of their remote programs.
A few said it could be summer before those decisions are made.
Remote learning programs have proved crucial to keeping ill and quarantining kids, and those worried about the health risk of returning to school, engaged and learning during the pandemic.
But for many students they proved a poor substitute for in-person instruction. In some districts, teachers were required to simultaneously teach students present in the classroom as well as those logging in by computer, which divided teachers’ time and attention, required more lesson planning and left many teachers frazzled and frustrated.
Remote learning proved particularly troublesome for younger children, especially those without parental support at home. Earlier this year, The World-Herald found that high school and middle school students learning remotely during the first semester of the year had substantially higher course failure rates than in previous years.
The districts ending remote learning say they’ll still make accommodations for students with medical needs.
Prior to the pandemic, districts already provided instruction to students confined to home and missing school because of serious injury or illness.
The Millard school board members last week affirmed that students who require home learning as a part of an individual education plan or 504 accommodations will still be able to receive homebound instruction next year. But it won’t be the synchronous variety, where they log into class remotely to learn alongside their classmates, board President Linda Poole said.
“If they have a doctor’s note, and it’s written in their 504 or written in their IEP that they can’t come to school because of a medical condition, they’re not going to be zooming in with their class,” she said. “That part is going away. They will have homebound instruction.”
Homebound instruction is asynchronous, meaning essentially students work at their own pace.
Bellevue and Papillion La Vista plan to serve students with medical needs through their homebound programs, spokespersons said.
Bellevue spokeswoman Amanda Oliver said the district’s goal for next year is to have all students learning in person.
“We know that the most powerful support for academics and social development happens when our students are in person at school with their classmates, teachers and staff,” she said.
Most districts offered a remote option to start the year. By midyear, many districts were encouraging struggling remote learners to return to in-person schooling.
The Millard Public Schools started the school year with 4,197 students, or 18% of its 23,659 students, learning remotely. As of April 1, the number of remote learners had dropped to 1,853, or 8%, the district said.
Poole said district officials are still encouraging remote learners to return in person this year, even if it’s just for the last few weeks of school.
By August, some remote learners will have been out of school buildings for nearly a year and a half.
Students need to get “back in the groove” before school lets out for the summer, she said.
“If they’re out for 18 months, and they come back, it’s going to be hard for them,” Poole said. “So even if we can get them back for a little bit of time, before the school year ends, I think it’s going to make it easier on them to come back in the fall.”
The Lincoln Public Schools, meantime, announced earlier this year that it will offer a remote learning program next school year — 792 students are signed up for it, according to spokeswoman Mindy Burbach.
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