Eric Stinton: The End Of Distance Learning Is Near. Let’s Not Rush What Comes Next - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at

If all goes according to plan, the remaining few weeks of school before winter break will be the final weeks of distance learning. Of course the next six or so weeks may not go according to plan, and we should be ready to adjust to new realities as they continue to unfurl.

But assuming there is no surge of new cases from now until January, the phasing out of distance learning is a good thing.

The stressors, challenges and distractions that come with distance learning impact all aspects of student life: academics, social and emotional development, psychological well-being. And students aren’t the only ones affected. Families are strained, teachers are exhausted.

These are easily justifiable sacrifices in a pandemic – stress and developmental delays can be addressed much more effectively than death – but they are sacrifices nonetheless. Distance learning is not a serious long-term proposal except in the direst possible futures.

At some point we have to start moving toward the next step: blended learning, where students take turns coming to school and staying at home. It’s not unreasonable to argue that we are not yet at that point, and that large groups of students should not be returning to school in-person until we reach safer benchmarks of COVID-19 management.

Kaneohe Elementary School summer school kids line up in the cafeteria socially distanced on their way to their classrooms. After arriving to the cafeteria, each child washed their hands and sat on socially disntanced chairs placed 6-feet apart. June 12, 2020
Kaneohe Elementary School summer school students keep a social distance as they line up in the cafeteria. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

A lot of teachers are either themselves immunocompromised or live with someone who is. Their anxieties and concerns are real. I feel for them, just as I feel for the kids stuck in unstable home environments without any friends or activities to help them cope. There is simply no way to do right by all parties, so we have to find the best imperfect solution.

That’s why blended learning is a defensible compromise, especially since having small groups of students at school these past few months has proven to be a broadly successful intervention.

Blended learning is riskier than distance learning but less risky than a full-blown student return, while its academic and social benefits are similarly positioned – better than distance learning, not as good as the pre-pandemic normal.

Hawaii averaged about 96 new COVID-19 cases per day in November, a manageable amount for a state of roughly 1.4 million residents. Even as tourism returned last month, the number of new cases never exceeded 163 in a single day. Even if you think it is too soon for students to start coming back, you have to admit we’re getting close.

Communication Challenges

There is one crucial, yet easily avoidable flaw in the plan, though. As it stands, blended learning will begin the first week back from winter break, the week following New Year’s Day. This puts schools and families in a position where unforced errors will almost certainly occur.

Communication between schools and families has been hit and miss. Some parents are much more responsive and communicative than others, and the same could be said of teachers and school staff. Everyone is busy and stressed, forcing a lot of students to become the primary means of communication between the adults in their lives.

In the closing weeks of this academic quarter, the focus is on finishing final projects and getting students caught up. Even if we spent a portion of class time going over schedules for January – which we can’t, since they aren’t official yet and could still change – that information would most likely be forgotten over the two weeks of holiday vacation.

If we start the first week of the third quarter in a blended learning model, it will absolutely stir confusion among students and families, confusion that could have been obviated by simply having students start coming back to campus during the third week of the quarter instead. That would provide ample time for teachers to remind students and administrators to remind families when blended learning will begin.

Princess Victoria Kaiulani Elementary School in Honolulu resumed in-person classes for kindergartners and first-graders on Nov. 16. Hawaii DOE/2020

That two-week buffer also has the added benefit of being a de facto quarantine period, which could be necessary as students travel around for the holidays. Schools aren’t able — and they shouldn’t be expected — to independently verify who among the student population traveled during break.

But even if we knew exactly who traveled and for how long, we can’t know for sure if they tested positive for COVID-19 or not, or whether they should be in quarantine. And if there is any kind of delay in receiving test results, a student could conceivably attend school in-person while unknowingly infected with the virus.

A school cluster could be potentially disastrous, and it doesn’t make any difference if it’s caused by a calculated gamble or honest ignorance.

Everyone has pandemic fatigue. It’s been nearly the entire year dealing with it, going from one lockdown to the next, having rules and information changed on us seemingly every other day.

We’d all love to rush back to some sense of normalcy, but that’s exactly why we have to resist the temptation to do so. As any teacher can attest, doing things right is much more important than doing them quickly.

We’ve come this far already. We can wait a few more weeks to make sure we do it right.

Read this next:

VIRUS TRACKER -- Dec. 4: 106 New COVID-19 Cases In Hawaii

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About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at

Latest Comments (0)

Rush back, who are you trying to fool?  My kid hasn't been in class since mid March, so January makes 10 months of no in class learning.  All that distance learning you expound has been at parental expense, yet I see no state tax deduction for being parent, teacher and household care taker.  No property tax credit, no GET break for food or medical expenses.  No school for nearly a year and the state hasn't scaled back any expenses, yet.  I blame most of this failure on the HSTA because it has fought tooth and nail to not return to the classrooms, all the while private schools have been back to in person teaching since October.  No one has died, or have there been some super spreader event.  The private schools have figured it out, but after 10 months the DOE and HSTA are still vacillating on a return to the classroom.  The ones most affected are the kids and as todays SA headline shows many are failing.  Simply pitiful HSTA.  

wailani1961 · 2 years ago

Everyone wants normalcy, when kids were failing, not graduating, and absent from school before the pandemic.  You all want the same thing by doing the same thing?  Sorry, but think again, we need new solutions not griping and telling others how to do their job.   In a class I asked my students if one solution can fix homelessness?  One student said yes and we launched into the discussion of what worked and what didn't.  Has homelessness been defined, are the solutions within the constraints, have we considered the variables, and can they be vetted?  So, we defined Covid19 is a virus but now how it spreads, who has it, and how we stop it except with a vaccine?  In the military, giving your life for duty and country is the norm, but a teacher giving up their lives to educate children is quite a different story.  This is not what teachers signed up to do, quite the opposite I assure you.  In the last week,  teachers are receiving their walking papers as we speak, while others are retiring.  Soon we'll have more students, less experienced teachers, and schools that have been combined to save money.  You think we have a problem now, open your eyes to the present future.        

madhawaiian · 2 years ago

Rushing is the absolute one thing you cannot accuse anyone in Hawaii governance of doing, so there is no danger of that. The return to learn plans have been ready to go since quarter one. Implementing them tomorrow would not be rushing into anything.I appreciate your use of the DOH COVID numbers, especially because you are a math teacher; however, every time the numbers are given, I wonder what the heck do prison cases, especially in Arizona, have to do with schools opening? More relevant are the numbers published weekly on the HIDOE website. Last week there were 22 cases district wide with facility impact.

See_Jane · 2 years ago

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