Educator: Virtual learning discussions should focus on teacher training

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There is both a virtual and in-person aspect to learning at Wolf Creek Online High School in Chisago City. This school has been around for two decades, and in the last 22 months, they’ve been able to manage the COVID-19 pandemic better than others.

"We know a lot of schools are playing catch up right now while also dealing with a lot of other issues," said Tracy Quarnstrom, Director of Wolf Creek Online High School.

At a time when many districts look to possibly transition back to virtual learning due to COVID-19 case counts, many wonder whether educators are as prepared as they can be.

"We were putting a band-aid on things 22 months ago and giving teachers a few days to become virtual teachers, but with the state of Minnesota announcing 400 new applications from August to October to start up new virtual academies, there also needs to be discussion around what is high quality," Quarnstrom stated.

While hundreds of schools and districts started virtual options this school year, others did not.

For those districts that do not offer an online option, the Minnesota Department of Education states they can only use up to 30 total instructional days to shift to online learning. If more are needed, they would need to be petitioned and approved.

Quarnstrom says virtual learning is here to stay, whether that be because of COVID-19, or a snow day, and she says educators need two things to know how to teach virtually.

"I think it’s time for the state to step up and offer supports and for schools, support means money and time, training, the ability for schools to know that virtual learning is, here to stay for a long time," Quarnstrom stated.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes) chairs the Education, Finance and Policy Committee in the Minnesota State Senate. He says online learning has its place but has been horribly disruptive for many students and parents.

"In school, in the rooms, with structure, back to normal and that has to be the standard," he said.

With regard to the funding that Quarnstrom says would be necessary to train educators, Chamberlain said he hasn’t seen any numbers as of yet.

As schools contemplate virtual learning, there are also large school districts that could be considering implementing mask mandates once again.