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Excerpted From: Ariel Katz, Education Connection: Education in the Time of Covid-19: Remote Learning's Mixed Effects on Students and the School System, 41 Children's Legal Rights Journal 183 (2021) (Sources List) (Full Document)


ArielKatzIn response to the outbreak of COVID-19, many students in the United States suddenly shifted to remote learning after an elongated spring break in April 2020. The shift was haphazard at best. Several districts struggled to roll out technology to students in a timely or organized manner. Additionally, vast inequities existed among racial and socioeconomic groups regarding access to remote learning tools, which affected students' ability to show up to class.

Prior to the start of the fall semester, schools and school districts had the summer to more adequately plan for at least a semester--and what has now turned into close to a year in most places--of remote learning. While some school districts and schools implemented hybrid models of remote and in-person learning, others have either been fully in-person or remain fully remote. Data is still scarce and continues to develop. Ultimately, though, remote learning has further widened the gap between the haves and have nots in this country. While schools and districts have much to improve upon to ensure all students are caught up to speed, there are also positive takeaways from this past year, notably teachers' and schools' focus on the social-emotional health of students. This article will address the various impacts of remote learning and the important lessons that can improve students' school experiences in the pandemic and beyond.

In their report on COVID-19 and learning loss, McKinsey & Company estimates that about 60% of students began the 2020-2021 school year fully remote, about 20% started with a hybrid model, and about 20% were fully in person. Of these groups, Black and Latinx students were more likely to learn fully remotely. Several factors contribute to different demographics of students attending school in person versus learning remotely. The report found that Black and Latinx parents were less likely to want their children to attend in-person classes. Further, students in urban areas and large school districts, where a large proportion of Black and Latinx communities reside, were more likely to be learning remotely. Finally, private schools, unaffected by state or local policy, mostly implemented hybrid learning options or full in-person learning. As such, while the pandemic has impacted access to learning for all children in the United States, remote learning primarily has affected those who attend urban public schools and thus disproportionally impacted students of color.

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Although some data exists regarding the ill effects of remote learning on students, it remains scarce and inconclusive. Only time will tell the lasting impact of remote learning on schoolchildren. The way we react, though, will undoubtedly shift the data one way or another. Will we invest in our schools and our most vulnerable populations to help close the education gap remote learning exacerbated? Will we continue to focus on the social and emotional health of students and collaborate with community organizers to best serve our communities? While remote learning has highlighted and widened the disparities in our education system, it provides an opportunity for innovative solutions to address the unequal education system that long predated the current pandemic.

Ariel Katz is a 2022 J.D. candidate at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Prior to law school, she worked as a high school English teacher in the Chicago Public Schools and subsequently as a fundraiser at the Jewish Federation.

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