Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has turned the school system upside down. Schools were caught off guard when they were ordered to close, and it showed. While there were some suburban schools that had dabbled in distance learning for inclement weather, almost nobody was prepared for this kind of scenario where students are learning at home for months at a time.
That has to change.
Circumstances that close schools for long periods of time are not common, but they are not unprecedented. And given enough time, they will happen again. Whether they close due to weather, some type of war or threat of attack, or even another pandemic (most likely resurgence of this one), school is always at risk.
This time around schools were scrambling to come up with suitable plans for distance learning. E-Learning strategies were created on the fly. Districts had to lend out computers and, in some cases, buy internet for families. Some schools seemed to have reached a place where students can complete work online, but that took weeks. Some schools are still not even to that point.
Schools need to make it a top priority to get E-Learning plans squared away. Those plans need to be more than theoretical what-ifs and suggestions. They need to be well planned out and communicated to students and families as the fall back in case of an emergency. Ideally, you want a situation where schools tell families to shift to E-learning without having to explain what it is and how it works. Of course, if you teach in a low-income area this includes planning around how to get technology and the internet to families who need it.
E-Learning is not a suitable long-term replacement for in-person instruction, but schools may find themselves in a situation where it is the best they can do. Every school needs to have a strong contingency plan. This situation has shown that is not yet the case.