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Friday, October 23, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  K-12 education

Distance-learning “a bomb dropped” that still needs work, educators tell committee

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 22, 2020

OLYMPIA – After ending one school year and starting a new one with their students learning at home or other remote locations, educators said state officials need to learn lessons and fix problems that are likely to continue.

“A bomb dropped on what education looked like,” Amy Campbell, who was recently named Washington Teacher of the Year, told the House Education Committee Tuesday.

The panel is one of many holding “work sessions” this week to gather information on topics the Legislature is likely to deal when it convenes in January.

“The state needs to look at what works, and the technology and innovations that can move education forward, said Campbell, a special education teacher in Camas.

“We’re learning a lot about what we can be doing that we should have been doing before,” said Deirdre Fauntleroy, principal of Seattle’s Northgate Elementary School.

Schools were wrestling with the “digital divide” between families and communities with broadband internet access and those who either can’t afford it or don’t have it available, she said. That gap existed before, but the need to erase it became more acute when schools closed to stop the spread of the virus.

With students learning at home, educators need to come to grips with the fact that they “are not the be-all and end-all of education for children,” Fauntleroy added. “They do learn things from their parents … we need to respect them as partners.”

There’s no easy solution for the broadband problems, said Heather Lindberg, a PTA volunteer and substitute teacher in Vancouver. Meanwhile, around the state schools, students and parents are confronted with a range of technology for providing in-home learning, but a lack of clarity on certain rules, she said.

Parents struggle with trying to balance work and their children’s education, and how to keep their children connected with their friends while limiting non-academic screen time, she said.

Cameron Grow, principal at Lincoln Middle School in Pullman, said there are some parts of his district with no internet access. He’s made more home visits to families in the last month than he made all last year.

“2020 has been tough for a lot of families,” Grow said. “We’ve got to do what we can … to make sure the gap doesn’t widen for these kids.”

Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard, asked why a YMCA in her district can get a contract to teach children but local schools are closed.

Greg Baker, superintendent of the Bellingham School District, said that’s because the Y can take fewer children, have more adults available to work with them and spread them out over greater distances. Schools would have more students per teacher in confined spaces, and have to work under different rules and regulations.

“It’s an apples-and- oranges comparison,” Baker said, adding schools are eager to have students back in school when it is safe.

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