We learned a lot from the Half Moon Bay Review’s virtual Back-to-School event, held Saturday over Zoom. Consider it our first homework assignment of the new school year. We grade our performance a “B,” with extra credit for effort.

The 1 ½ hour virtual gathering included three representatives from Cabrillo Unified School District, a teacher from Cunha Intermediate School, a family with two Coastside public school students, a recent Pescadero High School graduate, a PTO president and a local with expertise in children’s mental health. The time flew by.

We recognize the answers from school leaders may have been insufficient in themselves for parents with specific questions about how their children would be educated in this extraordinary time. The local school districts have held their own meetings in an attempt to keep parents informed even as conditions change, and local parent-teacher organizations have also organized virtual back-to-school events. There is another this week put together by Main Street Scholars. Taken together, we hope these events are helping parents triangulate the best option for their children.

There were nearly 100 questions submitted during our event alone, and more came in in the days prior to the event. We got to only a few of the questions, and the vast majority of those we didn’t get to were important and thoughtful. Jim wanted to know whether outdoor classrooms had been considered. Julie asked for the specific Phase 3 criteria that would allow for some students to physically return to class. David wanted to know whether COVID-19 was a bigger threat to area children than the effects of being left alone at home where learning was more difficult. Nicholas was rightly concerned about personal protective equipment for school staff. Meanwhile, some questioners noted that this is an opportunity to rethink the way we’ve always taught our children. Perhaps innovation will come from extraordinary adversity.

It was clear that educators have put a lot of thought into how best to teach students online as well as how to keep students and staff safe amid the pandemic. It was equally clear that they don’t have all the answers and that the answers they do have are likely to change over time. This is likely the most daunting back-to-school season of our collective lifetime.

Consider: An existing and persistent achievement gap threatens to become a yawning chasm at a time when many don’t have access to necessary technology. We’ve been warned of a mental health crisis on the horizon for young people who have been isolated and afraid. Teachers are frankly being asked too much; they are expected to teach students in person and over new online platforms while watching out for the mental health of their young charges and their own personal health. The loss of a year of instruction would be a profound handicap for an entire generation of Americans.

When Cabrillo schools “open” on Aug. 17, all of the district’s teachers will say, “Good morning, class,” over the internet. It is a fact mandated by local public health officials and an acknowledgment that school officials simply can’t ensure the safety of students and faculty right now. As a community, we must be forgiving, patient and help educators where we can — with innovative solutions, generous donations and thoughtful critique. Our children need us to set an example by continuing to work together to make the school that begins with remote learning work for all.

— Clay Lambert

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