Distance learning will help with flu season

(TNS) – State health officials are predicting a particularly severe flu season, but local school officials say they are better equipped to deal with it after expanding remote learning technology during the COVID pandemic.

An outbreak of the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) at an Austinville elementary school forced the school to close for a week beginning Tuesday, but did not force the end of classes. Eighty-three students and roughly 30 percent of staff were reported Monday, and another 17 students were sent home that day. Teaching has been moved to virtual delivery.

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

“Before we had virtual, you would close the school and not provide any instruction, then the school would have to make up days,” Douglas said. “The difference is that it allows you to provide some guidance and you don’t have to have those kids come in on Saturdays or add days to 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 the flu this year because fewer people are wearing masks or social distancing than in the past two years, when COVID was more widespread.

“There’s a very cautious concern across the country and across Alabama that this is going to be a bad flu year,” Smith said.

Every health district in the state is experiencing “significant flu activity,” according to ADPH data released Wednesday.

Lawrence County Superintendent Jon Bret Smith’s precinct reported 85 absences Wednesday, up from Sept. 26.

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

Morgan County Schools officials said they are not seeing a significant increase in absences due to the flu or RSV, but virtual learning gives them a tool to deal with an outbreak if one occurs.

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

“What we used to do was send paper packages home to the kids,” Willis said. “The difference is that with virtual learning, they can email or communicate with the teacher and the teacher with the student with a much faster response. If (students) got stuck, they were stuck with paper packets until they called. or someone could get into the school .”

Douglas said DCS has also given out paper packets in the past before COVID, but that puts more pressure on teachers to prepare them if there is a flu outbreak at school.

“Normally with these kinds of outbreaks, you don’t have anything prepared and planned,” Douglas said. “You either get your teachers to put something together or you get your parents to come and get it.”

With a virtual classroom, Douglas says, a teacher is able to interact with students through a computer and go through lessons in real time.

Limestone County Technology Director Linda Smith said students who were sent home because of the outbreak should not miss schoolwork because most of the district’s textbooks are available online.

“Years ago, if a student forgot to bring a textbook home, they didn’t have a textbook available to do their work or study,” Linda Smith said. “We’ve improved that because the 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 believe kids will continue to learn and learn quite effectively,” Willis said. “When you go long-term, it becomes an expectation at home. Even if the parents are really involved and really pushing, the child has to be motivated on their own.”

Douglas agrees with Austinville Elementary students.

“This is a short-term thing, hopefully we can get them back face to face as soon as possible because if you do this long-term, the kids are going to suffer,” Douglas said.

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


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