The biggest education story of this past year has been schools closing due to the coronavirus. Obviously COVID-19 has created a ton of problems, and its negative impact cannot be overstated. However, there was one positive: It dragged school districts kicking and screaming into the digital age. School districts should not let this long overdue development fall by the wayside when the pandemic finally dies down. Obviously, we want most students to return to school, but e-learning can still be utilized even after school returns to “normal.” The biggest opportunity is to use e-learning in-place of out of school suspensions.
Out of school suspensions are the most controversial aspect of school discipline. Such practices have long been derided as unfair, biased, and counterproductive. Many have advocated in favor of banning out of school suspensions. With respect to those people, that simply isn’t practical. Out of school suspensions may be overused, but I have certainly seen scenarios where they are needed in my ten years of teaching. That aside, nobody can argue they are particularly effective,but e-learning suspensions would be a better option for students whose in-person behavior is a danger to themselves and others.
Schools can use the same online platforms and webcam chats they are using for e-learning now to keep students who are suspended engaged. For example, a student who is suspended for fighting can still complete assigned work or work that is similar in concept and rigor online while at home. Maybe they could even check in with a teacher or school administrator via chat if needed. (Though I would hesitate to add that responsibility to teachers’ plates.)
Just to be clear, these students would still be suspended and out of school physically, and this system would not be perfect. Critics of this proposal will correctly claim that this doesn’t do anything to prevent schools from “over-suspending.” However, it is a huge step up over what we have now where kids are suspended, their parents go to work, and they sit home and play Xbox unsupervised all day.
In order for this system to work, we would need to permanently address the digital divide. You cannot assign students work via internet if you can’t ensure they have internet or an internet capable device at home. We have fixed this problem at a lot of places temporarily so it is certainly doable long-term if the will is there.
There have been few large changes to the way we do school discipline over the years. The e-learning systems schools where forced to adopt could be game changers for high need students in many areas provided schools don’t look at them as a stop-gap.