Friday, July 17, 2020

Random thoughts on education in the Covid era

As school districts debate if, when and how to go back to classroom education a recurring sentiment from a fair percentage of parents across the country is that their kids won’t be wearing a mask all day (if at all).
I’m sorry, but if you think your kids will be going back to school and won't be required to wear masks at all times except eating and drinking you're kidding yourself. To eliminate subjectivity, manage risk and keep the focus on education it is guaranteed most if not all schools will require constant use.

They can’t count on kids to understand the nuances of social distancing and to remember to put the mask up whenever they are within two meters of another person (heck, outside of the school walls that’s asking a lot of adults). On top of that, children are natural germ spreaders – they don’t cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze and think nothing of projecting that spray in their peer’s or your face. Six feet won’t cut it. Masks will to a point.

If you’re still not sold on it, think about your pocketbook and the niceties you want your schools to have: If schools don’t enforce continuous mask usage they could expose themselves – which means we the taxpayers – to considerable legal liability if a kid took the virus home, got someone sick, and that person died.

It’s been written in this column before about what kids are missing out on without the classroom experience. School shutdowns stink because students’ foundational years are when you want them exposed to different ideas, different cultures, and the teachers, coaches, and staff who can inspire and provide encouragement.

Kids needs the in-person experience.

But, some need it more than most – specifically the special needs students.

Even if mainstream students are denied that physical schooling, districts really have to figure out how to deliver on-site education to those who need a little extra help, support and love. Distance and virtual learning are both impractical and ineffectual to students with developmental and physical disabilities. We as a society are doing a great disservice to them if we deny them the incredible benefits that the human experience provides them.


My 8-year old daughter did quite well with e-learning last semester but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a frustration.

We live in a neighborhood that is rural, but nowhere near remote. In a four minute drive I can make it into the hamlets of Gasport and Wright’s Corners, eight minutes gets me into downtown Lockport. Despite that, we literally have a third world internet connection.

Our internet bogs down and makes Zoom and Google Hangouts difficult if not impossible. Many times she got booted off virtual classes because of our connection. It was heartbreaking for her. Tears would flow from the frustration of not being able to learn, see her teacher or interact with her friends.

Mind you, just a couple years ago Cuomo’s office said we were leading the nation in high speed internet and 2018’s “last mile funding” would finally ensure high-speed internet access for all New Yorkers.

It hasn’t. Visit any rural town in WNY or the Adirondacks – families, students and businesses have only rudimentary connections if any at all.

What’s happening to my family – and thousands of more across the state -- should encourage Albany to immediately refocus and rethink its efforts with broadband infrastructure, whether over the air or through cables.

Will it happen? During the spring Governor Cuomo claimed to understand the internet woes faced by students but he’s the same guy who just 5 months earlier vetoed a bill that would have studied the feasibility of state-owned internet to provide it to underserved communities.


The last 3 months of the 2019-2020 school year gave everyone a taste, just a taste, of homeschooling.

You have to admit it was difficult -- and that was with substantial resources provide by schools.

So, now, can we finally cast aside the insidious and unfounded stereotypes that traditionally-schooled families hold towards homeschool families?

The Covid crisis can help you understand the incredible investment of time, mind, money, and patience that homeschool parents invest in their kids. It’s not easy.

Through the years, in Scouting and various plant tours at Confer Plastics I’ve interacted with many homeschoolers. All of them have been incredible students with high levels of inquisitiveness, focus and discipline. I even had a college professor tell me that he knows when he has a homeschooled student in his class because of that student’s brilliance.

I think we can now all agree that homeschoolers really are “different”…but “different” in very good ways.


If in-person education is not a thing in the coming school year, superintendents and schools boards have to be ready to quell a revolt.

It’s common water cooler and social media talk that taxpayers will be enraged if they don’t get a refund on their taxes. They have a point – no busing, sports, arts, full food service, maximum use of HVAC, general maintenance and so much more.

Districts will have to be ready to explain if that budgeted money is coming back and, if not, what it is being used for – whether it’s “a rainy day fund” or it’s being reinvested in the physical plant of the campus to be ready for Covid protocols.

From the 20 July 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

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