Remote School-- Families Left Hanging: Re-Opening Choices Give Them No Choice

Right now families in Lakewood, like families all around the world, are getting ready for school. This pandemic year comes with some unique challenges, the first one is location: Where will my child be attending school— in a school building or sitting at the kitchen table?

In accordance with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health’s recommendation that school buildings remain closed and students receive online instruction for the beginning of the school year, Lakewood is starting the school year “remotely.”

What this means is that right now, all Lakewood students have the option of participating in the Lakewood City Schools remote learning program, which allows them to stay home and have their education delivered via school-provided laptops with Lakewood courses, teachers and classmates, using Zoom technology and Google classroom. This option is guaranteed for the first 9 weeks of school.

Families can also choose a second option: eLearning, with a pre-packaged online learning system which, while it has Ohio Dept of Education mandated core courses and some AP offerings, lacks LCS electives, upper level courses, and overall does not have a curriculum that matches Lakewood City Schools’. This system allows students to learn independently, without the interaction of Lakewood teachers and classmates.

Here's the problem:

The Lakewood City Schools remote learning program stops when buildings re-open.

With the current plan, children are being asked to go back into in-person classrooms when and if Cuyahoga County reaches the "orange" level of infection. Orange is described by Governor DeWine's office as "Increased exposure and spread."  

For Lakewood parents families who have health issues within their households, or who are unwilling to expose their children to infection, the orange level is not safe enough. They cannot or will not take a chance on sending their children back until there is a smaller risk.

With the current plan, if buildings re-open, these students will be stranded with some fraction of a LCS education, and no way to finish it. The District's current plan for these students is to require them to switch to the eLearning pre-packaged system. They will say goodbye to their teachers, classmates and LCS courses, to participate in a system that is principally online textbooks and in many important cases (upper level classes, specialty classes) cannot match Lakewood's course offerings at all.

If they don't want to do this, the only choice these families have is risking the health of their households and sending their children into the buildings, trading their safety for an authentic LCS's education, because it is the only way they can get one.  

Parents are not happy with their lack of options. 

A planning survey sent by the District in late June and early July, seeking input on what type of education families would prefer for their children during the COVID 19 pandemic did not present the idea of a prepackaged eLearning model. It was the recipients’ understanding that if they checked the “remote learning” option over the “in school” model, they were indicating a preference for their children to stay at home, taking LCS courses taught by LCS teachers. 

Families now feel that their needs were not represented in a decision-making process whose outcome was crucial for their children’s health, safety, education and social well-being. 

Their expectation was that the District was working to adjust and improve the remote learning model that was used in the Spring to create a more robust learning experience for students who chose this option, and that this option would not end partway through the school year. 

At the present time the District administration does not have a number for how many families are in this position because the survey did not reflect them.

Right now, some have unwillingly chosen the eLearning option, even though they want to participate in the LCS remote option, in order to avoid the issue of having their LCS education cut off in the middle.

Some are going forward with the LCS remote option gambling on the chance that the District will find a way to continue remote learning for some students when others go back in the buildings or that the county will say sick enough that everyone remains home. 

If this doesn't happen, it is the intention of some families to withdraw their students from the District in order to home-school them, in an effort to continue with their Lakewood courses on their own, and/or to allow their students to explore different, more challenging options than eLearning can provide. 

Some families, who can manage it, are choosing to withdraw from the District in the next two weeks to begin homeschooling immediately.

Parents are aware that some surrounding school districts are meeting the needs of all of their families by offering a hybrid system for when buildings re-open: classes taking place inside buildings will be live-streamed and/or filmed (saving bandwidth and requiring nothing more technologically advanced than a smart phone) and uploaded online for remote learners. This system allows for in-school and remote learners to remain one class. 

A  petition has been launched asking that the LCS District prepare their own hybrid model for when schools re-open. The petition is based on two points, one, that students who are physically challenged or are from at-risk families shouldn't be discriminated against and denied a legitimate LCS education and two, that the District's plan promotes community spread and greater infection within the schools because it forces families into the buildings when they would prefer to stay home, decreasing the number of students in the buildings, keeping everyone safer.

Superintendent Michael Barnes addressed the issue at a recent Board meeting, saying: “I just want the community to know that we hear that concern, we hear that desire and expectation... It takes a lot of planning— details to work out, but we’re working on that. We don’t have the solution, but we are working. I wanted to make sure that came through clear enough and that the Board was aware of that.”

After the meeting, Dr. Barnes was asked to clarify his earlier point. What if parents want their children to stay remote at home with Lakewood teachers when other students go back into the buildings? "We are committed to finding a way to make that happen," he said. 

As of Monday, August 17th, parents were being told by guidance counselors that their students would not be able to continue remote classes if buildings re-opened. A somewhat confusing FAQ on the District's website reads:

Q: If the District moves to Partial learning model for the second quarter but I am not comfortable sending my child back to the school building, is my child able to learn remotely with a Lakewood teacher?


A: If you do not want to send your child back to school under our Partial model, you would have to choose the eLearning LKWD model to continue learning remotely. However, the District is committed to try and find a solution that would allow those who do not want to return to be taught by a Lakewood teacher remotely.

Hmm.

Longtime school board member Ed Favre commented, “This has been such a moving target that it has led to some consternation. I understand the parents’ point of view: ‘I have three options, the best choice for me is the Lakewood remote option, but it's short-lived.’" He continued,  "I’d like to see us have a way to make remote learning a permanent option.”

When asked for an update on the situation Superintendent Barnes stressed that "(the District and administration) are committed to finding a way to make it happen, not that it HAS happened." Though they are working on it, he can't promise that there will be a remote LCS-led option available for families after buildings re-open.  He said that while he is hoping this is not the case, if a 100% answer is needed right now he has to say that the District cannot promise extended remote learning, and families should know that.

He said that it would be very helpful in this process to know the number of families that are interested in having this choice. The District doesn't have those numbers-- they only have eLearning and in-person classroom numbers. A large number would compel the District to go from "finding a way to make that happen," to making it happen. If your family is in this position, or you know of a family in this position, Dr. Barnes would encourage you to contact the District and simply state that they are interested in a permanent LCS remote option.   

  

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Volume 16, Issue 17, Posted 3:41 PM, 08.19.2020