Arlington parents who are keeping their students in online learning spoke up about concerns of unequal learning opportunities during a Feb. 16 Arlington school board meeting.

The school district is providing two online options for families, "Committed Distance Learning" which is learning directed by a teacher and the "Arlington Online Program" which is supported by a teacher but self-directed.

The Committed Distance Learning option is only available for elementary school students.

While most school districts are providing an online option for families who are concerned with their children returning to school, those are most often self-directed learning programs and not led by a teacher like the Committed Distance Learning option in Arlington.

Arlington School District officials said they are the only district they know of providing that option for elementary school students.

Logistically, providing the same teacher-directed learning at the middle school level and high school level is challenging because teachers are more specialized and more classes are available.

From an equity standpoint though, local parents were concerned about only having self-directed learning at higher levels.

“COVID-19 is a public health crisis and divided our communities more than anything we’ve seen in our lives. I have some concerns with the way the schools are reopening,” said local parent Erica Knapp. “The options provided, especially with middle and high school, don’t provide equitable opportunities for those with vulnerabilities to COVID-19."

Kanpp’s sixth grader has respiratory health issues.

“He could really be at risk for COVID-19 and that’s why we’re really at an impasse,” said Knapp. “To not consider the groups that have the least amount of representation is a failure of the system."

Local parent Michelle Angulo said her child lives with autism and would have trouble making a transition to in-person learning right now.

“My own child is thriving in committed distance learning,” she said.

“He does not deal with change well … a pivot in his learning now is a near impossible outcome for him to overcome,” she said.

Local parent Sandra Matthews said her first grader is in the Committed Distance Learning Program and that online learning has worked for her family.

“The teacher has figured out how to emotionally support these children in addition to educationally support the children,” Matthews  said.

Matthews is disappointed with middle school students returning, especially in a hybrid model where students would only see their teacher 26 days for the rest of the school year.

She recognized that in-person learning will help some students though.

“I know some students are not doing so well and it’s great that they are allowed to go back,” she said.

School board president Judy Fay said she wanted the district to look into new possibilities to help students who need a different online learning environment than what is currently provided, but acknowledged there are logistical challenges to bringing Committed Distance Learning to the middle school and high school levels.

“It’s a challenge to come up with these options that are viable options,” said Arlington School District superintendent Chrys Sweeting. “We would always want to try to make the best learning for students as possible, but it’s hard to picture how that would look."

Because there are so many different classes and specialties for each teacher, it would be difficult to provide the same experience online.

“Think of the high school, the idea of all the different classes you might have, and how do you cluster that,” said Sweeting.

The variety of different classes and needs would make it much more difficult than at the elementary level.

Sweeting said the district is working on another program for families, although the details of that program are not ready to be released yet.

“We are grappling with another concept but we’re not ready to talk about it too much yet,” she said. “We’re seriously looking at this other option."


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