So far, few Colorado families have chosen distance learning

In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, many major school districts in Colorado are offering e-learning programs this fall. But the data shows that very few students choose this option.

In 10 districts surveyed by Chalkbeat, only between 1% and 2% of students chose the full distance option for the 2021-22 school year. This is a dramatic decrease from the previous school year, when a significant portion of students chose to learn online.

In Denver, for example, about a third of the district’s roughly 90,000 students chose to stay online for the second semester of last school year amid a spike in COVID cases statewide. But district data shows just 1% of Denver students had taken the distance option for this upcoming school year in late July, even as case rates in the city are rising.

Several districts have warned that the numbers are still changing. Despite deadlines passed months ago, authorities are allowing families to change their minds before the first day of school.

Dina Puente is still undecided. One of her teenage daughters suffers from chronic health conditions, including asthma and allergies, which could make her seriously ill if she contracts COVID. In-person learning is a greater risk for Puente’s family, but she said her children miss the social interaction of school. Her daughters have lost touch with their friends because they stayed online last year, she said.

“At the start of the summer… my decision was to send my daughters out for in-person learning,” said Puente, who lives in Denver. But looking at the spread of the most contagious delta variant, she said, “I think, ‘I want them to go in person, but now I want them to be at a distance. “”

Distance learning has been the educational hallmark of the COVID-19 pandemic, with schools across the country switching to online courses to try and slow the spread of the virus.

But after two interrupted school years, many schools are eager to bring students back to classrooms. Politicians are also impatient, with governors in some states ordering schools to reopen five days a week. Colorado, on the other hand, has left it up to school districts to decide whether or not to offer distance education and has agreed to financially support e-learning for the next two years, as long as the districts can show that students learn.

Few families benefit from it. Of the 10 districts surveyed by Chalkbeat, Greeley-Evans School District 6, which serves a predominantly working-class community about an hour northeast of Denver, and Adams 12 Five Star Schools, which serves suburban northwest communities like Thornton , had the highest percentage of students. choosing e-learning at 2.4%. The Douglas County southern suburban school district, which serves a more affluent community, had the lowest percentage, with 0.9% of students choosing to stay online.

About 1% of students in Denver Public Schools, Jeffco Public Schools, Westminster Public Schools, and Pueblo District 60 chose to stay online, while about 2% of students in Aurora Public Schools in the School District from Cherry Creek and District 51 to Grand Junction have it, the data shows.

In some diverse districts, including Denver and Cherry Creek, black families were more likely to choose distance learning, while white families were less likely to choose it, the data showed. In Jeffco and Adams 12, Hispanic families were more likely than white families to choose remote areas.

A similar trend was seen last October in Denver, when a higher percentage of black and Hispanic students chose to stay online than white students. COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on Colorado’s black and Hispanic communities, with both experiencing higher rates of infection and death than the state’s white population.

Community organizations that work with parents say the uneven quality of distance education over the past two school years may deter more families from enrolling this year. While some teachers and students have thrived online, many others have struggled. A January poll by several Denver-area education advocacy groups found 65% of parents believed their children were learning less online than they would in person.

“Which parent do you know who was like, ‘Ooh, did that go well? ”Said Ariel Smith, co-founder and executive director of Transform Education Now.

Some parents also fear losing their connection to their children’s school. Unlike last year, districts are centralizing online education this year as most students are returning to class. This means that students who stay online will be taught by teachers only online, not teachers at their home school, and will likely learn alongside new classmates.

Mask mandates can also play a role in family decisions. Most districts in Colorado have only recently announced whether they will require students to wear masks this fall. Parents worried that their district does not require masks may want to switch their children to distance learning, while parents opposed to masks in districts where they are required may do the same.

Joanna Rosa-Saenz said she was disappointed to learn that Denver’s public schools are requiring masks for all students and that the mayor of Denver is forcing school staff to get vaccinated. Rosa-Saenz is opposed to all vaccinations on religious grounds, and she said she was concerned the district might impose COVID vaccination on students as well. After keeping her kids online all last school year, she signed them up for in-person learning. But she has reservations.

“I prayed about it,” said Rosa-Saenz, whose children will be in ninth, third and kindergarten. “I want to give this opportunity to the school but I don’t know what it looks like.”

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