Throughout the pandemic, many parents and children struggled with remote learning. One of Samantha Lucero’s children had a very different experience.
“When the pandemic first hit, online school was a bit messy for everyone,” Lucero, a stay-at-home mother from Colorado Springs, told CNN Business. “But my older daughter did so well with it. She started participating more with teachers and became more comfortable than when she was in a school setting. Her grades were amazing.”
Her 13-year-old daughter has autism and has been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, which makes it difficult for children to communicate, socialize, and adapt to changes in the environment, such as distracting noises in the classroom. When the Colorado Springs School District announced plans earlier this year to start offering a permanent online school option called the Spark Online Academy in August, Lucero talked to her daughter about it and then signed her up. “She was ecstatic,” Lucero said.
The frustrations and drawbacks of online learning are well-known to countless households after more than a year of pandemic living. According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25% of parents whose children received virtual or combined instruction reported their children’s mental or emotional health had deteriorated, compared to only 16% of parents whose children received in-person instruction. They were also more likely to report that their children were less physically active, spent less time outside, and had fewer friends. In addition, parents’ emotional distress was exacerbated by virtual instruction.
However, as many school districts abandon virtual learning options and return students to classrooms this fall, some parents, like Lucero, are looking for remote-only options from new and existing schools, in line with recent CDC guidance to make it a priority.
The decision to transition students from traditional to digital classrooms is based on a variety of factors, including family flexibility and ongoing concerns about Covid-19, as well as better supporting children with various learning needs who thrived during home learning. Continuing remote learning, on the other hand, is a luxury that typically necessitates one or more parents who stay at home or work remotely.
It also necessitates the availability of broadband and appropriate devices in the home, though some programs provide students with resources such as a tablet or computer.
For families interested in online education, the options appear to be expanding and becoming more popular. According to a spokesperson for Stride K12, a virtual public school option that works with school districts in 30 states and Washington, DC, the percentage of current enrolled families planning to return in the fall is at an all-time high. It hired hundreds of new teachers last year, expanded its curriculum to serve more students, and increased its computer inventory.
According to Jeremy Meyer, director of communications for the Colorado Department of Education, applications for online multi-district certification — meaning virtual schools that can enroll students from counties across Colorado — have jumped from one or two in a typical year to six so far this year.
During the pandemic, many families in the Colorado Springs School District reported similar success with online classes, according to Julie Johnson, principal of the Spark Online Academy.
“We heard from parents who were frustrated with the negative narrative around online learning because that hadn’t been their experience,” she said. “Those generalizations dismiss what has worked for so many families — and that population does matter.”