THE FIRST meeting between teachers in Montpelier, Vermont, before the start of the autumn term is usually festive—hugging over breakfast and coffee. This year they had to make do with an online videoconference. After a scramble in the spring (to set up online learning, pack lunches for poor pupils who relied on them and ship computers to those without them), the district plans to let younger pupils return for in-person learning on September 8th. High school will remain partly online because the building is too small to allow social distancing. The young pupils who can return will need to wear masks, keep their distance and have temperature checks before entering school buses or buildings.
Setting up these protocols took many 60-hour weeks over the summer holidays, says Libby Bonesteel, the superintendent. Her husband, a microbrewer, recently dedicated a new beer, “Our Impossible Ask”, to teachers. “Pairs well with late staff meetings, upended expertise, existential crisis and seemingly unending complications,” suggest the tasting notes.
Of the 50 largest school districts in America, 35 plan to start the coming term entirely remotely. The opportunity to squelch the virus over the summer has been lost, upending plans for “hybrid” education (part-time in-person instruction). This means more than just child-care headaches for parents. The continued disruption to schooling will probably spell permanent learning loss, disproportionately hurting poorer pupils.