COVID-19 is forcing parents and schools to make tough educational decisions

By Michael Kinney

For Shannon Richardson, it was a hard decision.

The mother of two children in the Cache Public School District had to choose how best to educate her children for the upcoming school year – and it was not easy.

With the fear of the possible spread of COVID-19 in schools, Richardson decided to keep Katie Ellis, ninth grade, and Johnathan Ellis, seventh grade, at home this semester.

It was a picture that sealed her decision.

“I’m scared, and I don’t know if the school will be able to enforce social distancing,” Richardson said. “I mean, we are dealing with children here. Last week when I sent my daughter to band camp, I saw a picture of some of the girls in the bathroom. They took a picture with no masks on.”

The only person wearing a mask was Richardson’s daughter, she said.

Richardson is not the only parent in the district to have the same thought. Approximately 500 Cache students will be using distance learning this semester.

That is where Edgenuity and Edmentum enter the picture. They are the two organizations that will handle the distance learning at Cache.

Edgenuity, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company, has the K-5 grades while Edmentum will be in control of 6th through 12th.

However, that wasn’t the original plan, according to Superintendent Chad Hance.

“When we started down this road, looking at our fulltime virtual platform and what we could offer,” he said. “Our initial look was to go with Edgenuity because of their course offering and some of the other aspects, but it’s also very costly.”

When Gov. Stitt announced that the state would provide Edmentum for free to sixth through 12 to all schools, Hance said that’s when the district decided to use Edmentum for grades six through 12.

Essentially, Cache will be using a private and public platforms for their virtual learning this year. But according to Hance there are only slight differences.

“One of the things that we’re still researching on is AP courses and honors courses – what Edmentum can offer there. We might have to do something a little different if they’re not offered, but we’re chasing that down as we speak.”

Over the past two decades Edgenuity has built up its online learning service and has worked with more than 4 million students in 2019.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., Edgenuity Vice President Deborah Rayow says the online learning model was getting more popular.

“We’ve definitely seen a rise in interest in blended learning in particular,” said Rayow. Blended learning utilizes “digital curriculum and some use of face-to-face traditional teaching, all tied together by data so that students would do some of their coursework digitally.”

Cache Schools gave families two options when it came to educating their children this fall: a traditional in-person model, with 18 virtual days built in; or a full-time virtual model where students would not have to step foot on the Cache Public School campus the entire year.

Richardson chose the latter for both her children. However, she knows it comes with some sacrifices.

“It’s rough, because I have a ninth-grader and she wants to walk down the halls and be around her friends,” she said. “I also worry about keeping up with all the work.”

Both Edgenuity and Edmentum offer blended and full-time options.

While Edgenuity offers the opportunity of letting students pivot back and forth between blended and online, that is not an option for Cache students. One of the prerequisites to being part of the online learning in 2020 was having to commit to full-time virtual learning for the entire semester.

“With either one, if you choose our full-time virtual program, you get to 10-day grace period,” Hance said. “After those 10 days, it’s a semester commitment.”

Edgenuity and Edmentum are staffed by certified teachers and educators, who will build the lessons and curriculum that the students at Cache will learn from.

“Some districts will use the curriculum that we provide in its entirety. Others will customize it pretty significantly to match the scope and sequence of their traditional classroom or to add their own projects or their own writing assignments so that teachers can really make that curriculum their own and personalize it to the needs of their students,” Rayow said. “But either way, they’re starting from comprehensive coverage of their state standards instead of having to build curriculum from scratch, which can be quite challenging.”

Regardless of what happens over the next months in and outside the classroom, no one knows what is in store for virtual learning in 2021. But Edmentum and Edgenuity are using this time to show there is more than one way to educate students.

“I think that this is an opportunity for people to see some of the potential in digital curriculum,” Rayow said. “Hopefully back to school 2021 does not look like back to school 2020 for a lot of reasons. But I do think people will find new ways of teaching and learning that will continue to shape the future of education in this country.”

Richardson doesn’t know what the plan is for next semester. She and her husband are waiting to see how this year goes with distance learning. However, Richardson said she knows it’s really not up to her.

“Right now, this virus is dictating our decision for next semester,” she said.

Story by Michael Kinney/Michael Kinney Media

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