Graphic by Hannah Ratcliffe ’22
Superintendent Thomas Scarice announced that the Westport Public Schools, in accordance with the Department of Education, would not be offering remote learning for the next school year on May 21, eliminating the option to attend classes virtually.
Peter Yazback, the Director of Communications for the Connecticut Department of Education, believes that distance learning has been a key aspect of schools this year but will not be necessary for the 2021-2022 school year, as some students benefit more from learning in classrooms.
“We do not anticipate the need to mandate, due to public health necessity, that districts offer families the option to opt-in to remote learning in 2021 and 2022 as they have been required to do this school year,” Yazback said. “We continue to emphasize and reiterate that access to in-person learning opportunities is a priority aligned with the State Board of Education’s promise of equity and access for all.”
However, despite success from hybrid and full distance models, Scarice believes that the pandemic learning situation reinforced the necessity for a normal school year.
“The remote learning option, like a number of other approaches and investments, has been critical to our remarkable success this year,” Scarice said in an email to Westport families. “Although students have experienced success in this pandemic year, if anything else, this year clearly proved that there is no replacement for in-person learning.”
Many students have utilized online learning throughout the pandemic, and some still remain in the distance learning category as the school year comes to an end. While online learning has some safety advantages, it also has its flaws for students.
“It has been nice to be at home in my own comfortable environment but it’s definitely been difficult too,” Piper Cohen ’22 said. “I have not been able to foster a close relationship with many of my teachers.”
Despite the fact that many students are planning to return to school in the fall, some believe online learning is still a beneficial and necessary option for students who feel more comfortable in the safety of their homes. Students have also seen personal growth while learning online, as a new sense of independence has been established.
“Being fully online has helped me grow mentally and realize that I don’t need as much guidance or hand-holding,” Demitra Pantzos ’23 said. “There will always be families that are still not comfortable being in a full school and believe they are still at risk.”
Although virtual learning will not be offered to students regularly, there are potential uses for the online method of learning when schools are closed.
“In our meeting, we discussed how live streaming might be used in certain situations,” Coleytown Middle School Principal Kris Szabo said. “It is possible, if school had to close temporarily, it would be virtual. We believe with the low transmission rates, the number of people vaccinated and how students learn best in person that this is the right decision at this time.”