What online school can teach us

Stella Fetherston

COVID-19 forces us to reconsider a school’s role outside of the classroom.  After the second week of social distancing, the Tigard-Tualatin School District began planning for the possibility of what online schooling could look like. Of course, the wide range of accessible, or limited, resources had to be taken into account. For example, internet access became a right rather than a privilege. Hot-spots were provided to families in need of internet access, and onsite food pickups for any family expressing a need, regardless of free-and-reduced lunch status, were offered. 

At the end of the day, inequalities between students were greatly exacerbated amid the pandemic. Racial and socioeconomic status play a part in a student’s access to online support and learning, but outside of the physical school, a student becomes heavily reliant on electronic resources that because of life circumstances they don’t have access to. An already present racial-achievement gap will continue to widen, given the disparity of wealth and technological access. A school was a central place for students to have equal access to learning materials. Public school has a legal responsibility to provide education services to all of its students. 

These disparities have been brought to the forefront of our consciousness as we wrestle with an unreplicable system: public school. Our district waited until the state mandated a deadline to online learning to help make sure that more services could be provided, allowing specialists to organize and coordinate services for a student’s access to online learning.  It was in the best interest of every student that Tigard-Tualatin waited, so adults could ensure that every student could have equal access to their impending online education. 

Educators are required to check-in with their students regularly, asking questions regarding their social-emotional well-being and their ability to access technological resources. Resources have been provided to ensure equal access among students. However, once coronavirus begins its eventual recession, will these resources still be provided like they are necessary? A hyper-awareness for mental health and overall accessibility has been destigmatized across academic circles. The need for food, Wi-Fi, or learning materials won’t disappear after coronavirus is brought under control. The need has always been there; it’s what we as a community do to level the educational playing field.