Remote learning will help with flu season

Remote learning will help with flu season

(TNS) — State health officials are forecasting a particularly bad flu season, but local school officials say they are better equipped to deal with it after ramping up technology for remote instruction during the COVID pandemic.

An outbreak of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) at Austinville Elementary School caused the school to close for the week beginning Tuesday, but did not force an end to instruction. Eighty-three students and approximately 30 percent of the staff were reported absent on Monday, and an additional 17 students were sent home that same day. The instruction was changed to virtual delivery.

Superintendent Michael Douglas said it’s a daunting task to temporarily close a school, but he feels his district is doing a better job of avoiding learning loss during the closure.

“Before we had virtual, you would have closed the school and you would not have given any instruction, then that school would have had to make up the days,” Douglas said. “The difference is that it allows you to provide some instruction and you don’t have to have those kids come on Saturday or add days at the end of the year to make up for lost time.”

Alabama Department of Public Health Administrator Judy Smith said she expects a high incidence of flu this year because fewer people are wearing masks or social distancing than in the past two years, when COVID was more prevalent.

“Across the country and throughout Alabama, there is a very cautious concern that this is going to be a bad flu year,” Smith said.

According to ADPH data released Wednesday, every health district in the state is experiencing “significant influenza activity.”

Lawrence County Superintendent Jon Bret Smith’s district recorded 85 more absences on Wednesday than on Sept. 26.

“Now things like the flu and RSV are on the rise, like what we saw before (COVID-19),” the superintendent said.

Morgan County Schools officials said they’re not seeing a significant increase in absenteeism from the flu or RSV, but virtual instruction gives them a tool to deal with an outbreak if it does occur.

Morgan County Schools Chief Technology Officer Lee Willis said virtual instruction has been a more useful tool in reaching students at home than the district’s previous methods.

“What we used to do in the past was send paper packets home with the kids,” Willis said. “The difference is, with virtual instruction, they can email or contact the teacher and the teacher with the student with a much quicker response. With paper packets, if (students) got stuck, they just they would get stuck until they made a phone call. or someone could come to the school.

Douglas said DCS has also handed out paper packets in the pre-COVID past, but it creates more pressure for teachers to prepare them if a school experiences a flu outbreak.

“Normally with these types of outbreaks, you don’t have things set up or planned,” Douglas said. “Are you forcing your teachers to put something together or are you forcing your parents to go upstairs and look for it.”

With a virtual classroom, says Douglas, the teacher can interact with students through the computer and review lessons in real time.

Limestone County Chief Technology Officer Linda Smith said students sent home due to an outbreak shouldn’t miss schoolwork because most of the district’s textbooks are available online.

“Years ago, when a student forgot to bring a textbook home, they didn’t have a textbook available to do their work or study with,” Linda Smith said. “We’ve improved that because textbook materials are interactive online and we’re seeing that increase.”

Willis said virtual instruction is beneficial when students have to be sent home, but it’s not something he wants to implement long-term.

“In the short term, I’m confident that kids will continue to learn and learn quite effectively,” Willis said. “When you go long-term, it becomes a matter of expectations in the home. Even if the parents are really committed and push hard, the child has to be motivated.”

With Austinville Elementary students away for the week, Douglas agrees.

“This is a short-term thing that hopefully we’ll deal with as soon as possible because if you do it long-term, kids are going to suffer,” Douglas said.

©2022 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Alabama). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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