To Zoom, or not to Zoom? For Nebraska school districts, that question has come with differing responses.
Since the initial COVID-19 outbreak, nearly two years of data on best practices have been gathered and face-to-face lifestyles have somewhat returned, putting certain online or virtual tools back to the side. For primary and secondary educators across Nebraska, this leaves one question: what do they do with Zoom or other e-learning tools now? With the opposing methods of instruction both seeming like feasible options, education for children in the future may look different depending on where they attend school.
During the 2021-2022 school year, some school districts haven’t used Zoom much at all, at least not for classroom instruction. The reasons include lack of technological support and issues with online learning in rural areas.
“There are many factors in not utilizing the remote learning options but the two main factors are lack of staff and very spotty internet connection for our ranch families,” Christopher Kuncl, superintendent of Mullen Public Schools, said. “I know some small rural districts are having ‘online learning’ days, but as a superintendent, I just do not think that is viable in our area and it is not what is best for our students.”
Andrew Dick, superintendent of Scottsbluff Public Schools, had similar qualms.
“In regards to having students log into a Zoom if they fall ill with COVID-19, I wouldn’t say we disagree with this,” he said. “However, not all of our classrooms are equipped with the necessary technology to ensure a student would still have a meaningful learning experience in this type of learning environment.”
Some Nebraska superintendents seek to transition away from remote learning after seeing the importance of in-person learning and the safe practices that can be taken. According to Admissionly’s online education statistics, three in four students say they learn better in a standard in-person class.
“We would continue to utilize Zoom in certain situations if needed but don’t plan to expand our usage, and I foresee the tool being used less down the road,” Josh Fields, superintendent of Seward Public Schools, said.
Other superintendents with similar views include those of Syracuse-Dunbar-Avoca Schools, Creek Valley Schools in Chappell, Nebraska, and Hemingford Public Schools. Unless an extended absence is necessary, they would like their students in the physical classroom instead of the virtual one moving forward.
For Norfolk Public Schools, remote learning has been well out of the mix for a while. Besides the spring 2020 semester, NPS has engaged with in-person learning for the remaining school semesters since the pandemic began.
According to Erik Wilson, director of student services & safety at NPS, low COVID-19 case numbers in the area and a well-staffed district have made this possible.
“When we put our plan into place to go in-person that following August of 2020, we haven’t changed from that since,” Wilson said. “(We’re) just trying to manage it and handle it as best as we possibly can to keep kids learning, keep them in school, and keep them safe.”
While many districts in Nebraska turn away from Zoom, others embrace the tool and plan to leave it in the toolkit for the near future. Districts like Lyons-Decatur Northeast Schools, Bancroft-Rosalie Community Schools and Exeter-Milligan Public Schools are keeping Zoom around, whether for staff meetings or remote learning if necessary, according to their superintendents.
School cancellations due to inclement weather, also known as “snow days,” are a thing of the past for a couple of districts. Instead, they will still have class and meet online remotely if the weather affects the ability to commute for in-person instruction. Omaha Public Schools announced it is incorporating e-learning for snow days, as well as Bancroft-Rosalie Community Schools. On the contrary, other districts, including Lincoln Public Schools and Hemingford Public Schools, are sticking with their plans to cancel school entirely when inclement weather arises.
“Snow days are sacred. Staff and students look forward to snow days,” Charles Isom, superintendent of Hemingford Public Schools, said. “We decided early on that snow days are off-limits. Enjoy the day, we need a break.”