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Parents, education leaders weigh in on how online learning could shape the future of education

Posted at 5:09 PM, Sep 30, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — Enrollment in Utah public schools is down an estimated 2,150 students this school year compared to last, according to preliminary data from the Utah State Board of Education.

“Where did those 2,150 students go? Are we reaching out to them? Absolutely, yes,” Scott Jones, Utah State Board of Ed. Deputy Superintendent of Operations, said.

The Utah State Board of Education collected preliminary data for enrollment in the 2020/21 school year on Sept. 9. Finalized “official” numbers will be gathered on Oct. 1.

The data shows a large increase in the number of students who transferred to private schools or who will be homeschooled this year. One of the biggest increases this year is a 63 percent increase in the number of students enrolling in online or virtual learning.

The future of education could be moving in a more virtual environment, Jones said, as some parents are considering keeping their kids online even after COVID-19 cases are under control.

“I think it’s a blend. I think Utah is agile enough to ride an online learning environment or a hybrid learning environment, where you go two says into the classroom and three days online, or you know, completely traditional,” he said.

Online schooling has been wonderful, Bryce Stilson said. Her 9-year-old daughter Parker is doing school virtually and loving it, she said. The decision was made to protect Parker’s brother.

“We just adopted a little boy, and he is, his immune system is compromised. So, we weren’t super excited about sending Parker back to school,” Stilson said.

Moving fully online was nerve-racking after distance learning last spring, she said.

“I really hated in March when the schools did their virtual learning, that was a nightmare,” she said.

This online environment has been completely different, Parker and Stilson agree. Parker is attending Harmony Ed online.

“The best part is math, which is what I am doing right now, because it really gives you a lot of tools if you’re like stuck on something,” Parker said.

Parker now enjoys reading, homework and school. She may continue with online learning in the future, Stilson said.

“Fourth grade is all about science, so she has rock tumblers, and polishers and an ant farm and she’s growing a garden,” she said.

Brittny Best also was concerned sending her kids online after distance learning in the spring, but said things have been great with Davis Connect, part of the Davis School District.

The risk of COVID-19 and the daily mask wearing, made Best decide to have her five children learn virtually.

“I knew there would be outbreaks in the schools and for me that’s scary for my kids that have asthma,” she said.

There is still uncertainty about next school year, but Best said her kids are enjoying learning online and will let them decide.

"I’ve given my kids the option, once the virus is under control and there is some normalcy, I’ve given my kids that option,” she said.

Some parents decided to move their kids to homeschooling, instead of online or in-person learning, for continuity more than the fear of COVID, like Justin Hutchins.

“With so much uncertainty as to whether class would be in person, online or hybrid, we just figured we would commit to home school for the kids’ sake and defining normal at least for the school year,” he said,” he said.

The plan is for the children to go back to traditional school next fall, but Hutchins said they haven’t made a final decision.

“Homeschooling has proved to work well, Hutchins said, We have a daughter who is 11, and sons that are 8, 6 and 2. We end up finishing around 1pm typically and have the rest of the day to go out, play, whatever. No more evening battles over doing homework! Our kids and my wife are really taking to it,” Hutchins said.

Many parents across Utah have rallied and pushed for schools to move back fully in-person and are against online learning.

To read the Utah State Board of Education's preliminary report, click here.