Spring break is nearly over for most Missouri schools, and this week will put administrators, teachers, students and parents to the test as they try to adapt traditional classroom settings to online home instruction.

The challenges are enormous, as are the imperatives to keep students on track.

They must not get the impression that because their physical school buildings are closed, their spring semester workload is canceled.

Principals already are conducting online workshops with teachers on instruction procedures in the coronavirus era.

Teachers literally have a matter of hours to prepare themselves for an entirely new realm. They’ll have to master the technological complications of corralling students using Zoom or Google Hangouts.

Then comes the arduous task of contacting each parent by phone to make sure children will be ready when online sessions begin.

If instructors didn’t take their teaching materials home with them before spring break, it’s too late to go back and get them.

If teachers’ homes are like most people’s, there are no blackboards, whiteboards or perfect, empty spaces for online instruction.

A closet or dining room table might well have to be adapted. (And what if the teacher has her or his own children running around?)

It’s up to school districts to make sure all students have some kind of device that enables them to connect to the online session. I

t might be a phone, Chromebook, iPad or desktop. But poorer households might not have any of these. Nor do they necessarily have WiFi or broadband connections.

Nationwide, an estimated 14% of households with school-age children have no internet access.

Parents who use their cellphones for internet access might be loath to hand their phones over to children for all-day online school sessions, knowing that an enormous data-overage charge might soon be coming.

They might have missed the announcement by AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson that his company will waive overage charges for the next 60 days — an extraordinary gesture that could help solve a major connection issue for millions of people.

Spectrum and Comcast, two major internet service providers, are offering free service to new customers with K-12 students stuck at home for the next 60 days. Spectrum has extended its program to include college students.

Of course, that means parents must act quickly to sign up and get such services installed — not easy at a time when service-installation technicians are likely stuck at home themselves. Some schools are trying out mobile hotspots installed inside school buses.

Libraries are seeking permission to expand open hotspot access.

Another hard part for parents will be keeping their kids focused with online instruction while the adults perform their own work duties from home.

Expect nerves to be frayed, internet connections to be strained, and patience to be tested like never before.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.


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