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In favor of K-12 on-line for fall 2020

The below is a public comment for the Aug. 6th Northampton school committee meeting. I think on-line is by far the best option for safety and teacher workload, and that the difficulties for parents can be mitigated.

Dear school committee members,

I am writing in favor of the on-line model, with school-based support for students who cannot participate remotely. I think there are two very important arguments for this model:

1. Safety. While Northampton currently has a relatively low number of Covid-19 cases, the future course of this disease is highly unpredictable, and the community levels could well increase in the fall to a level at which in-person instruction is no longer possible. If we adopt on-line instruction from the start, the resulting chaos and disruption for the lives of teachers and families of switching halfway through the semester could be avoided. Furthermore, even with the current levels of infection, there is a good chance that returning to in-person instruction, even with our best safety efforts, will itself lead to increases. It’s important to bear in mind that we are far from having the spread under control, even here, and especially in other regions of the state and country with which we have much contact.

2. Workload for teachers. It is simply too much to ask our teachers to prepare instruction in two modes, both in-person and remotely. Effective remote instruction requires considerable preparation and ongoing effort. Since the school committee has already committed to remote instruction (and it would seem it would need to given the circumstances), the only way to ensure teachers will have the time to prepare effective curricula will be to allow them to devote all of their time to the on-line effort.

The downside of the on-line model is of course that not all caregivers are able to support remote learning. The school committee has already committed to offering 5 day in-person accommodation under special circumstances, and it seems that this could be expanded to include a wider range of students. This would not mean that they would be receiving in-person instruction, since this would recreate the teacher workload problem. Instead, they would use an internet connected device like their peers at home to participate on-line. I know this is a complex, difficult decision, and I appreciate all of the efforts you are making to get to the best one.