Note: This blog post was edited, honed down, and generally made better in the latest newsletter.
Ian’s school, like almost all schools in NJ and nearly half the schools in the country, is hybrid. Students attend school for in-person instruction every other day; one week they have two mornings (over at 12:45), the next week, it’s three days. When they are not in school, students watch their teacher and fellow students in little boxes on a Zoom call. Students also have one 30-minute remote class in the afternoon, which is optional — there’s a 50/50 chance that nothing will happen after 12:45.
Because Ian’s an IEP student, Ian gets a little more school than the other kids; he attends school five mornings per week. But he is often the only student in the room. His school is a ghost town.
Ian’s pre-calc math class normally has 30 students. With hybrid instruction, the number of students in the classroom is cut in half to 15 students. But those students aren’t showing up. The state has said that any student can opt to do their classes remotely, never stepping foot inside a school. Since last fall, more and more students are opting to stay home, doing their classes in the PJs, rather than showing up to school.
Parents tell me that they allow their students to stay home, because the kids would rather do their classes in the PJs. It’s comfy and easy. Sometimes it takes the school bus forty minutes to pick up all the kids and snake through local traffic, so the kids have decided to skip their commute. They don’t want to go to school, when their friends aren’t there.
Many teachers are working remotely full time. So, students say that it’s dumb to go into school to watch a teacher on a Zoom call. Why go through the bother of dressing up, commuting, working in a harsh workplace of plastic barriers and masks, when the teacher is only talking to them on their Chromebook? They could do that at home.
In these sporty suburbs, the parents tell me that their kids socialize with friends then, rather than the lunchroom. The kids are also worried about the hair-trigger quarantine requirements that could sideline them from their sports for two weeks. For some parents, it’s more important that their child play in the basketball tournament than learn anything in an English class.
Others tell me that kids are staying home, because it is extremely easy to cheat on tests at home. The kids have got their math book open just outside the Zoom video camera, if it’s even on, and they’re texting answers to their friends. This can’t happen in the school. So, kids who go to school are at a big disadvantage.
If my son was one of those other kids, with sports and friends, I might make the same decision and let him work remotely. It’s the rational decision. And who wants to hear a teenager whine? Cringe.
But I don’t have one of those other kids. My son doesn’t have any friends. He is not able to play a sport. I have a kid who desperately needs to be around other human beings and to get out of his bedroom. So, I send him to school faithfully every day even though his teachers are busy talking to a couple dozen boxes on his laptop and not to him. Ian might be the only person physically in the classroom at that moment. But, like I said, we are desperate.
I just can’t see how this is going to change. Our district has recognized that the lack of students physically in the classroom is a problem, but they have no tools to force students to go. Now that students have gotten the option to dial it in, to do pretend school, they aren’t going back. And can you blame them? How many teenagers voluntarily chose to work hard?
Public schools in New Jersey are not committing to opening up regularly anytime soon. Our superintendent has refused to say if schools will open full time, even when the teachers are vaccinated. They aren’t going to force students to get vaccinated, so that means they will have to continue to offer them the option of cheating and sleeping at home all next year.
I have been very unhappy with how schools have dealt with this pandemic, since everything shut down last spring. At that time, my kid didn’t even have remote education — his classes consisted of worksheets and YouTube videos for the entire spring. I thought that shutting schools was appropriate at that time, but I expected more Zoom stuff. (Evidence: a list of all the newsletters from this year.)
While my kid has Zoom classes now, he needs more. My kid needs teachers and school and classmates. If restaurants in Manhattan are open and have figured out how to feed people in 20 degree weather, why can’t schools figure this out? If our school can offer basketball tournaments for unmasked players and parents in the stands, why can’t they have a math class? I just don’t get it.
And those other kids, even those with friends and sports, need to be in school. They are getting lazy. They aren’t learning. They are developing bad habits. Parents need to kick those kids out of the house. And schools need to offer sticks and carrots to get those kids back. If this doesn’t happen, public education is over. Just over.