U.S. schools scramble to teach, feed students as they shut down
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[March 17, 2020]
By Brendan O'Brien
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Students and parents
have begun settling into a new reality of online learning and packaged
meals as the coronavirus outbreak has forced the abrupt closing of
school systems and districts, large and small, across the United States.
Some 32 million U.S. schoolchildren in at least 33 states are facing
weeks away from their classes after educators and politicians ordered
schools to close to help halt the spread of the pandemic, according to
School closings have left many students to complete class work mostly on
their own while many parents who live pay-check-to-pay-check scramble to
feed their children the meals they would otherwise have gotten at
"I am down to the bare minimum right now. ... It's always tight, but
with this happening it's even tighter," said 37-year-old part-time cook
Amy Hernandez as her voice quivered.
The single mother said she had to buy a bunch of 34-cent boxes of
macaroni and cheese to feed her two daughters, ages 6 and 10, to get by
before she gets paid on Friday.
"It's just so sudden and unexpected ... it's just so stressful,"
Hernandez said on Monday, a day after the School District of Oconee
County in northern South Carolina canceled classes for two weeks for her
daughters and 10,400 other children.
Oconee County schools will begin providing food to students later this
week. Some districts were providing meals to pupils at school sites
while other districts, like the Chicago Public Schools, the nation's
third largest, instructed students and parents to go to their school to
pick up packages containing several meals.
Educators warn that the closing of schools poses serious challenges that
can disproportionately affect low-income and special needs students,
including those who rely on schools for nutritious meals. While most
American households have broadband internet, there are big disparities
when it comes to laptops and home supervision.
"As K-12 officials in many states close schools and shift classes and
assignments online due to the spread of the new coronavirus, they
confront the reality that some students do not have reliable access to
the internet at home," the Pew Research Center said on Monday.
The center pointed to a 2018 survey that indicated 20% of teenagers 13
to 17 years old said they sometimes are unable to complete homework
assignments because they do not have reliable access to a computer or
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WEBINARS AND ONLINE INSTRUCTION
The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school
system in the United States, will open 40 family resource centers on
Wednesday, where under-privileged students can study and eat
throughout the day.
In New York, the country's largest school system, educators were
given until the end of the week to develop a remote-learning plan
for the system's 1.1 million students after Mayor Bill de Blasio
shut down schools on Sunday.
At the Westchester Torah Academy, in White Plains, New York,
students have been working from home in virtual classrooms for about
week after the outbreak spread to the area.
"Our goal was to keep routine as much as we can," said Deganit
Ronen, the school's principal. "The most important part of this is
trying to keep kids in an atmosphere where they feel safe and
Many school districts are sending children home with packets that
include daily and longer-term assignments and lessons. Some of the
work requires online material while in other cases the work can be
completed without internet access.
Jill Booth-Clibborn, a 47-year-old who works from home as an
occupational therapist recruiter, sends her two daughters to the Los
Angeles United School District. Her 11-year-old will get what
amounts to two days of online instruction each week.
"My daughter who is in middle school was sitting at her desk (at
home) at 8:30 this morning ... she really snapped into shape this
morning," Booth-Clibborn said.
Her older daughter, who is in high school, has access to a week's
worth of assignments online along with several webinars.
"The high schoolers are expected to digest it and do it and ask for
help," Booth-Clibborn said. "For my daughter, that works for her
because she's a good student and she's on it and motivated. I could
imagine that becoming bad for other people."
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; editing by Bill Tarant and
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