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A Cure Withheld: Education Establishment Kneecapping Distance Learning Already in Place


“We have the cure. We know it works. You’ve used it before. But you’re not allowed to use it now.” 

Imagine if your government - federal, state, or local - said those words to you regarding the corona virus. You would be justifiably outraged. If you could access the cure, you would probably defy the ban on its use. 

Two weeks ago my wife received an email from my step-daughter’s school. Among the expected notices that in-school instruction would be canceled for a least a few weeks due to corona virus, there was a nasty surprise. “Neither on-site nor virtual [i.e., remote, online and with no person-to-person contact] instruction can occur during the state's window of school closures.” (Emphasis added.) Note that this decision was made by the state Board of Education, not by Epic, the statewide virtual charter school we have chosen. 

You see, when we moved to Oklahoma, my wife and I chose Epic because they not only seemed like they would do a better job teaching our kid (so far, in my opinion, they flatly trounce both the New Hampshire public school she was in from K-3, and the expensive Montessori she attended for grade 4), but they also offered a blended learning environment. This meant our only-child could go interact with other kids her age, receive in person instruction from teachers, have recess, and do all the other normal school things, but it also meant that when we couldn’t get to school - whether because we were traveling or because an infectious disease caused the state to shut down every school under its purview - she could complete her lessons online. She could keep pace with her peers (or as it turns out, outpace many of them, since Epic allows bright students to learn at an accelerated rate), maintain her attendance, and most importantly, continue to LEARN. You know, that thing we used to expect schools to provide? Education? 

So, who could possibly be better situated to withstand Covid-19 than Epic? Someone outside the state of Oklahoma, apparently. The email we received said that: 

While EPIC is a virtual school and is uniquely positioned to deliver instruction virtually to all of our students, the State Board of Education did not make a distinction among Oklahoma public schools in its order, so this closure does apply to EPIC Charter Schools and both its one-on-one and blended learning center programs. This means we are being instructed by the state to not provide instruction during the window of the closure.

One could believe that this was simply an oversight. Even though Epic is now the third largest school district in the state, perhaps the Board of Education forgot to account for their unique circumstances. 

One could also believe it's an instance of state education bureaucracy prioritizing “fairness and equality” — not allowing children who are well situated to continue their education to do so, because other children are not in the same position, and the result would not be fair to the public school children (or, more to the point, fair to the public schools). One could understand not wanting to deal with outraged parents who learn that their neighbor’s children are still learning despite the panic. 

The flipside is the outrage of parents whose children are well positioned to continue their education uninterrupted, yet are being denied the opportunity because other parents made different choices - as though everyone should always be shielded from the consequences of their choices. I wonder if the Board would ban public schools from operating if there was a massive and long-term disruption to the electrical system or the internet. 

Is it possible that the education establishment didn’t want public schools to look any worse than they already do when compared to charter schools? Perhaps they fear a slew of students would switch to virtual charters for the remainder of the year, find out it’s a pretty good deal, and decide to stick around next year.  

We received an update, letting us know that our child was allowed to continue her online studies during the shutdown, but she did not have to. (We conveniently forgot to pass that last bit on to her.) No direct instruction - even virtual instruction - will be allowed. (Is there a fear that corona will mutate into a computer virus and then back again?) Assignments completed during the mandatory education blackout period will be graded, but not until the blackout is over.

So, when you’re out there shopping for the last scrap of toilet paper, don’t forget to pick up some used text books. It seems homeschool is the only way the establishment will allow uninterrupted education, in order to preserve their hallowed traditional system.

Mike Davis is a Research Fellow at 1889 Institute. He can be reached at mdavis@1889institute.org. 

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.

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