She is far from alone. A recent poll conducted by Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools found that of more than 9,000 parent responses, 53 percent of respondents said they would prefer their child to return to an in-person format.
However, a similar percentage said they’d prefer their children to continue learning remotely for now, indicating that there is no predominant opinion on how the school district should move forward.
A recent survey conducted by The Daily Tar Heel gauged the opinions of parents, students, teachers and administrators in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and Orange County Schools regarding online learning. The survey asked respondents about their overall satisfaction and concerns regarding their districts’ handling of the format.
Receiving over 60 responses, many respondents said while they were generally satisfied with the functioning of the online format, they were concerned about difficulties with socialization for students, uneven access to resources for different families and the level of stress that both families and teachers are facing.
As the school board prepares more concrete plans for the spring, parents and students are reflecting on how remote education has played out for them as they get used to the new online format.
A major concern for many respondents was the challenge virtual learning poses to students’ socialization and their ability to make connections.
One respondent said while their daughter’s online learning experience had been largely positive, they were concerned about the effects of the online environment on socialization.
“Socially, this age is tough, there are no outside groups to put her in, there is no making friends in online school,” the respondent said. “She will survive, but I hope this only goes on for this year.”
Ben Knight, a junior at Chapel Hill High School, said he’s seen a general decrease in both opportunities for and effectiveness of social situations in his school’s online format.
Knight said in-class discussions are less productive as students struggle with the virtual classroom, and students are opting out of school-administered opportunities like group projects. However, Knight noted many clubs had done a good job in mitigating the changes to the social environment.
“The clubs have effectively filled much of the social void left by leaving the physical school this year,” Knight said. “And that’s mainly been led by students.”
Ranging from minority students, to families with fewer resources, to those who need individualized attention in their curriculum, several respondents expressed concern about how the school boards were addressing these differences.
“(I am) worried children are being left behind,” one respondent said. “They write stories about giving the wifi hotspots, but we are still waiting.”
Knight expressed concerns about how the online format could exacerbate already existing disparities for minority groups. A 2017 study conducted by Stanford University found CHCCS had among the widest Black-white achievement gaps in the country.
“Many of those students are in historically disadvantaged groups with low income, and have less access to the remote learning situation,” Knight said. “There are still many students who the district is struggling to make consistent contact with.”
Individualized Education Programs
Several respondents expressed concerns about students in Individualized Education Programs. IEPs are programs developed by schools to provide special accommodations to students in the Exceptional Children department, including adapted physical education, assisted technology, behavior support programs and more.
Some respondents expressed concerns that IEPs were not being followed through with in the online format, or that programs were being misrepresented.
“They tell a parent the child will get 'small group' math, for instance, when really, there are 18 kids (more than regular class) in 'small group,' and it’s just taught multiple grade levels below by an EC (Exceptional Children) teacher,” one respondent said.
In the remaining months of the semester, it seems students and families can largely expect more of the same. On Thursday, CHCCS’s Board of Education convened virtually to discuss options for the coming months.
Though no definitive plans were made, the board did discuss a recommendation from Jim Causby, the district's interim superintendent, to move forward with a two-phase, gradual reopening plan.
CHCCS spokesperson Jeff Nash said the first phase of the plan would involve bringing members of the district’s Adapted Curriculum and Spire programs back to school in November and December, alongside reopening the buildings for standardized testing.
Adapted Curriculum is a statewide program of traditional special education for Exceptional Children with a focus on life and job skills. Spire is a night-school program hosted at Phoenix Academy High School aimed at helping those who are unable to attend classes during the day.
“Those two programs may still be starting prior to the second semester, possibly as early as November,” Nash said.
The second phase would offer students an option to return to hybrid in-person classes through a staggered reopening, with the youngest students and those in the Exceptional Children program starting first. This could begin in the spring semester, but no decisions were formally approved.
In the meantime, however, many parent respondents noted that they and their students had adapted to the online format, thanks in large part to the work of their teachers.
“Teachers have an impossible job but are doing fantastic,” one respondent said. “I have been impressed with how they are able to troubleshoot from their end to walk my kid through where he needs to be.”
Williams, the parent of the kindergartner, said despite some uncertainty with the online format, her son’s teachers had been among her family’s most consistently positive experiences.
“I do really give credit to the teachers,” Williams said. “I think they’re doing a great job.”
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