An early step most states took in dealing with the coronavirus epidemic was closing public schools. That was wise for the good of both students and those to whom the children, perhaps not showing symptoms, might have transmitted COVID-19.
Many, probably most, school systems already had in place plans for distance learning. They are used from time to time when inclement weather forces closures.
But such plans were intended for short-term use, in most cases. We are learning that for many students, there is no substitute for classroom exposure to teachers and, for those with special needs, specialized educators.
As The Associated Press explained last week, “Teachers across the country report their attempts at distance learning are failing to reach large numbers of students.”
In many cases, the problem is that students — especially in lower grades — lack the computers needed to work through school system online programs. In many other situations, students do not have internet access at home.
Some school systems provide laptop computers to students. Some have reacted to internet access challenges by setting up mobile hotspots to serve homes without their own service.
Clearly, education technology needs another look once we have recovered from the epidemic. That may require spending beyond the capacity of many school districts.
There is a greater problem, however. It is that education is too important to be left up to educators.
They know what we mean: Without involved cooperation from parents, many students cannot succeed academically. For a significant percentage of children, school work will not be completed unless someone pressures them to crack the books.
When schools are in session, teachers can fill that role — to an extent. When students are kept home for weeks on end, parents have to be more conscientious. Some don’t do it.
Most states have compulsory school attendance laws. Parents who do not send their children to school can find themselves in trouble with the law.
There are no compulsory homework requirements when students must be kept home. Perhaps — again after we are out of the COVID-19 woods — that is something education policymakers should look at.