EDITORIAL: Starting the school year – Every option has a downside

Mike Christopherson
Mike Christopherson

When it comes to the 2020-21 school year in school districts and universities in and around Crookston, there are two certainties:

1. The 2020-21 school year will start, it will be conducted. (After all, you can’t just cancel school, can you?)

2. Whether it starts with an entirely in-person classroom scenario, a 100% distance learning scenario, or a hybrid that combines both of those strategies, various stakeholders - whether they're students, parents, teachers, staff, local businesses, etc. - are going to be less than pleased.

• Want to go all in with a normal start of the school year that includes nothing but in-person, in-classroom instruction and learning? Go for it. Just know that parents, while digging the fact that, unlike this past spring, they won't have to struggle as they try to help their kids navigate a hastily assembled distance learning curriculum, they'll also know that their kids are being put at greater risk, in harm's way, even. Will all the students be required to wear masks? Even the youngest, littlest ones? And their teachers, too? How will social distancing work? How will lunch be served, and eaten? Will custodial staff spend all day disinfecting?How’s the ventilation in the classrooms? Fall sports good to go, too? How's that going to work?

• Want to go with an educational delivery system that's entirely distance-based and entirely online? Be our guest. It's certainly the safer option. But a lot of students, and let's not forget, a lot of teachers, aren't cut out to excel in an educational scenario that lacks face-to-face contact, communication and instruction in a classroom. And, back to the parents: This past spring was a stressful slog for a lot of them, as they came face-to-face with the harsh realization that they were largely unable to do much good when it came to helping their children with their homework.

It warrants mentioning, though: This all happened very fast this past spring, the shutting down of almost our entire society, including school districts and universities. In Crookston, our K-12 teachers had essentially a week to throw something doable together, and they did their best. And at institutes of higher education, while students complained about the quality of their suddenly online classes and the depth of their learning, it must be noted that we're talking about classes that were designed to be delivered in person and in a flash had to be converted to online/distance delivery. That's not how online learning works. At places like the University of Minnesota Crookston that have been offering online courses and bachelors degrees entirely online for decades, courses designed and constructed to be delivered entirely and only online are a far superior product to the in-person courses this past spring that over a few days of scrambling had to be transformed to distance/online delivery.

• Want to start the school year off with some sort of hybrid delivery model? While doing so might not lead to the extreme negative reactions that might accompany the first two options, this one will leave everyone feeling a bit satisfied, a bit dissatisfied, and maybe more frustrated than anything, as students have to rotate between classrooms and learning electronically from a distance. And if you want to really stress out your instructional staff, ask them to teach some of their students in-person and others via Zoom...at the same time.

Let us all offer up a consoling but also encouraging pat on the back to our educational leaders who have to take all of these very real factors into consideration, and make a decision on how to start the 2020-21 school year. We don't envy you, because we know there is no entirely right or slam-dunk best decision to be made.

How do you find a balance between the importance of safety and the importance of learning? You don’t, and that’s what makes this so difficult.