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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘We’ve been hearing both sides’: Teachers respond to Spokane district’s decision to begin with distance learning

In a March 15, photo, Jan McGowan, left, and Heather Miciak video chat with a fellow teacher at Regal Elementary School about a digital program called Clever, which allows students access to educational resources.  (Libby Kamrowski)

For algebra teacher Joanna O’Neill, there’s nothing more satisfying than eliminating a variable.

So she was relieved when Spokane Public Schools did just that and committed to beginning the school year with distance learning only.

“Now we can move on,” said O’Neill, who is at Ferris High School this fall after two years at North Central.

O’Neill also can sleep better.

“As we were approaching August, I found myself getting a little bit more nervous,” O’Neill said Wednesday. “I’m younger, but I think that being in contact with 150 kids a day was a worry, and I also fear for my coworkers,” O’Neill said Wednesday.

But like many teachers, O’Neill said the benefits of the district’s decision came with some unfortunate tradeoffs.

O’Neill will miss welcoming kids on the first day of school. She also regrets that she won’t be able to walk up to a student’s desk and offer some much-needed help.

That will be more difficult now, said O’Neill, who worries about how she and her colleagues can “make sure that kids feel cared about and instilling positive feelings about school.”

At Shadle Park High School, math teacher Dave Montecucco applauded the decision to follow Monday’s recommendation from the Spokane Regional Health District.

“I appreciate what they’re doing,” said Montecucco, who also praised the district’s efforts to strengthen distance-learning.

“Last March we were thrown into the storm, but now we’re a lot more comfortable,” Montecucco said.

“But we won’t be standing next to the kids, and that’s my forte,” Montecucco said. “Now how do we engage them and inspire them?”

Those mixed feelings reached all the way to the offices of the teachers’ union, the Spokane Education Association.

“We’ve been hearing both sides,” said SEA President Jeremy Shay. “We wanted to come back into schools, but some members saw the challenges of maintaining social distancing.”

“But if we make the right decisions now, we’ll be able to slowly transition back to normal,” Shay said.

More challenges lie ahead.

The district and its teachers must build confidence among students and families that the new model will surpass the old, which Shay likened to “building a plane as we were flying it.”

“It’s important for our community to know that, especially for parents who felt that ‘this didn’t work for my child,’ ” Shay said.