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Core school subjects deserve in-person instruction

The Ashland School District is moving ahead with plans to bring elementary students back to school in person starting March 1, but core subjects of math and language arts will continue to be taught remotely. District administrators have some rational reasons for that decision based on space and staffing limitations, but we don’t think it’s in the best interest of students.

The district’s arguments boil down to how they can spend the most time on core subjects with the staff they have: continuing distance learning allows math and reading instruction five days a week. State requirements for distancing, which require 35 square feet of space per student, means the district could not accommodate all students in person that many days per week.

Educators also point out that, if a student tested positive for COVID-19, the resulting quarantine requirements would interrupt core instruction. Staying with remote learning avoids that possibility.

All reasonable considerations. But the result is, the subjects our education system considers the most important — math and reading — will continue to be taught in a less-than-ideal manner, while science and other classes will be provided in person.

Reporter Joe Zavala lays out the district’s case in a story in today’s newspaper, and highlights the concerns of one mother who says her children and others have struggled with distance learning, especially since the fall, when Zoom classes were administered live rather than prerecorded. She points to national data indicating students most at risk of falling behind because of socioeconomic status or learning disabilities are doing just that under the challenges of distance learning. Local statistics mirror the national ones.

Add to that the demands on parents who are called on to help with math instruction, and the system is clearly not meeting students’ needs.

Today’s high school students are expected to tackle levels of mathematics some of their parents didn’t encounter until college, if then. Elementary students need to be prepared for that with a solid grounding delivered at an early age. If they fall behind now, some may never catch up.

School districts are faced with huge challenges in preparing to reopen classrooms while complying with state COVID restrictions. We don’t envy educators that task.

But if math and language skills are the most important for students to master, then they should be taught in the most efficient way possible. Maybe that means more effective in-person instruction on fewer than five days a week rather than Zoom sessions every day that leave too many kids behind.

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