Virus forced schools online, but many students didn't follow

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FILE - In this April 9, 2020, file photo, Sunnyside Elementary School fourth-grader Miriam Amacker does school work in her room at her family's home in San Francisco. Teachers across the country report their attempts at distance learning induced by the pandemic are failing to reach large numbers of students. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

SAN DIEGO – During the first week that her San Diego public school was shuttered to slow the spread of the coronavirus, not one of Elise Samaniego's students logged on to her virtual classroom.

Three weeks in, the teacher still hadn’t connected online with roughly two-thirds of the students in her third- and fourth-grade combo class at Paradise Hills Elementary. She fears the pandemic will exact a devastating toll on education in the United States, especially at low-income schools like hers.

“I do have several students below grade level, and this is just going to make it worse," said Samaniego, who has been emailing and calling families to get her 22 students to participate.

Teachers across the country report their attempts at distance learning are failing to reach large numbers of students. Hundreds of thousands of students are still without computers or internet access. Those who do log on have countless distractions: They are babysitting siblings, sharing laptops, lying in bed during lessons. Others log on only to walk away.

With schools closed for the rest of the year in at least 23 states, the uneven progress with remote learning is raising concerns that those who already were struggling will be left further behind.

“The pandemic is an educational equity crisis for vulnerable students who were too often underserved by our education system in ‘normal’ times,” said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of The Education Trust-New York.

Not all schools are struggling. Those accustomed to technology transitioned smoothly. Derek Blunt, a math teacher at Making Community Connections Charter School in Keene, New Hampshire, said students are issued iPads in normal times and regularly use Google Classroom and other platforms. A week after the school closed, nearly all of his 65 students were doing their work.

In contrast, students at Samaniego's school faced several hurdles before learning could begin. Some only had internet access through their parents' phones.