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Education

'Remote learning is not learning:' Some Sycamore students speak out as district eyes return date

Abby Carter speaks before the Sycamore District 427 school board on Tuesday.
Abby Carter speaks before the Sycamore District 427 school board on Tuesday.

SYCAMORE - Administrators in Sycamore School District 427 presented return to the classroom plans to the board at its last meeting, and according to comments by some district students in attendance, it couldn't come at a better time.

The three students who spoke at the meeting presented a negative view of remote learning.

"I'm feeling really hurt that schools nationwide are working around COVID and embarrassed our school is not able to," said Tyler Carter, a senior. "I'm disappointed in the whole e-learning thing. I had ADHD and I'm not going to want to sit in from of a computer from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m. I'm not going to want to do that. I can't sit there for that long. That's not something I can physically do."

Eighth-grader Makayla Heine said remote learning has been very stressful. She said normally, interaction with classmates between classes in the halls is an excellent stress reliever, but obviously not possible during remote learning.

"I can speak for a lot of students and it's very stressful," Heine said. "I get headaches and I can't focus."

Administrators laid out a return plan with a targeted date of Nov. 4. No vote was taken nor consensus reached, as board member Kris Wrenn pointed out the last time the board made a decision without all the financial information available, the district had to switch from a hybrid model to remote learning a week before the scheduled start to the year after costs came back prohibitively high, namely needing more than $1 million for substitutes to make the plan work within guidelines set by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Administrators had estimated about a total of $60,000 in technology upgrades for the new return-to-school plan, which would feature students broken into two groups, with one in-person and the other remote but livestreaming what the in-person students are seeing. They would switch days, and a fully remote option would remain available.

But substitute costs were not spelled out, leading to Wrenn's hesitation as the board was about to reach consensus. Instead, it will be put to a vote on Oct. 6.

Abby Carter, Tyler Carter's sister, said that using Canvas, the online system in which teachers upload classwork, can be a scavenger hunt. Teachers use it differently, she said, so things are always in different places.

"Remote learning isn't learning," she said. "It's clear this is not the best we can do."

West Elementary Principal Kristina Crawford presented some data from a parent survey showing overall satisfaction among families with remote learning, however that survey itself was criticized by parents in the open comments session for being vague and not allowing specific feedback.

Crawford said 772 elementary families completed the response, with moderately satisfied winning a plurality at 36.4%. She said 76% of families chose either mild, slight or extreme satisfaction with remote learning.

She said 10.2% were moderately dissatisfied, 8.2% were extremely dissatisfied and 5.5% were slightly dissatisfied.

"I feel like we can do more in this situation," Tyler Carter said. "I hear that elementary students may go back and I hear that's because we are more mature. I don't think it's maturity. I've worked 13 years, I don't know the years, but I think it's 13 years. I'm not doing this to sit in front of my Chromebook. I could be on the job site earning money. In my opinion this doesn't even matter to me."

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