My main takeaway from Wednesday night’s Board of Education meeting was an earache.
To say that watching the live internet stream of that meeting was a bit of a challenge is to say that getting through Calculus was a bit of a challenge.
Delayed for 45 minutes by technical difficulties. No sound at times. A total reboot needed an hour in. And then buffering, freezing, restarting, buffering, freezing, restarting.
At times, the audio would cut out on my laptop. But I found that, using an iPad, if I turned the sound up to 100%, balanced it on my left shoulder and set the speaker against my ear, I could make out what was being said. Unfortunately, with no warning, the audio would return full blast and it was like standing next to an amplifier at a Metallica concert.
I would blame all these issues on my internet connection except that over the past four months my family has had four devices simultaneously streaming various programs on Netflix, Amazon, Disney, Hulu, or YouTubeTV — without any issues — more times than I care to admit.
After the reboot, things improved for a while and I got to watch about 45 largely uninterrupted minutes leading up to the big moment, when Superintendent Steve Lockard was to give his much-anticipated recommendation to the board regarding how Carroll County Public Schools should begin the 2020-21 year.
He began to speak and talked about how difficult the decision was. And how much time and effort CCPS staff had put into researching and working on solutions. And then ... his image froze on my screen, a little spinning icon mocking me as I made a futile effort of hitting refresh. By the time the stream was live again, Lockard was done.
Eventually I figured out Lockard had recommended an online-only return for school — enhanced distance learning — with a reevaluation that left open the possibility of some in-person learning by the beginning of the second quarter depending on how local coronavirus statistics are trending. Much of the rest of the meeting was spent discussing how it will work, how much “synchronous” learning will occur, how much better it will be than last spring’s version (which, while unacceptable, was better than a lot of the surrounding systems were able to produce).
The irony of pledging to do a great job with online education during a livestream that was, frankly, a fiasco was lost on no one who was desperately trying to watch from their laptop or desktop or table or phone.
But CCPS has five weeks to make the technology reliable, to help prepare teachers to teach in front of a webcam in addition to utilizing online learning programs, to get this right so that students are engaged and learning and are being held accountable. If that happens, no one will care about technical issues during a midsummer meeting.
Probably half the parents were disappointed by the decision. As a parent, with two kids in CCPS, I hate to see them missing out and wish there was another way. It seemed several of the board members wanted to vote the other way. But as BOE member Patricia Dorsey said: “It’s people. … We can’t lose sight of that. Even if it’s just one,”
In the end, no one wanted to be responsible for even one teacher or student becoming gravely ill or dying from a communicable disease they didn’t have to be exposed to.
Might that equation have to change at some point? Absolutely. Even an enhanced version of distance learning can’t go on indefinitely. The adults who casually dismiss students spending a quarter or a semester or an entire school year at home are delusional. This is a big deal.
But kids are resilient an adept with devices. If CCPS can do a good job, make learning interactive, make sure teachers are teaching and responsive, make the day more regimented and grades important but with flexibility based on individual situations, and if parents can be encouraging and motivating, this can be a passable stopgap measure.
As long as they are able to pivot quickly back to in-school learning once the numbers get going back in the right direction. And there is no repeat of Wednesday night.
Bob Blubaugh is the editor of the Carroll County Times. His column appears Sundays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.