Students Abandon Class and Demand Remote Learning During COVID Spike

Education Policy Brief #64 | By: Yelena Korshunov | January 17, 2022

Header photo taken from: CNBC




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Students leave Brooklyn Tech High School to protest for safe learning during the pandemic. January 11, 2022. 

Photo taken from: Stephen Lovekin / Shutterstock

Policy Summary

“Is my child safe in school?” This is a question that millions of parents ask themselves today. Remote learning vs. in-person. In-person vs. remote. Multiple pros and cons, dipped in wordy discussions without being resolved, challenge students and their parents to solve this dilemma on their own. On Monday, January 10th, the New York City Department of Education reported 11,825 students and 2,298 staff COVID cases. Next day, thousands of high school students abandoned their classes to walk out demanding remote learning. Protest into chilling weather was the students attempt to convey to officials that they feel unsafe attending in-person classes during the enormous COVID spike. Another issue is that because of multiple positive cases among teachers, schools are extremely understaffed.

The week before nearly quarter of all NYC students didn’t attend the school. “We’ve called for a remote learning program since September, and we believe we need to do this,” stated Teachers Union chief Michael Mulgrew. “I think Mayor Adams is really thinking it through, because it is just the fact there’s over 200,000 children who haven’t been in school for over two weeks.”

A lot of the students posted on Instagram that they seek a return to remote or blended learning. Some admitted that parents send them to school testing positive so that they won’t skip lessons. Although New York City new mayor Eric Adams, following Florida governor Ron DeSantis, insisted on keeping school buildings open during the pandemic, student protests and low attendance drove him and  the new NYC schools Chancellor David Banks toward negotiation of a remote learning option for city students. Meantime when a curve of Covid-19 cases leaped up after holiday break, multiple districts in New Jersey, Illinois, Kentucky, Georgia, Colorado, Michigan, and other states, temporarily moved to remote learning for more than 450,000 children.

Policy Analysis

While local politicians either try or avoid making decisions the final resolution should be up to the school districts that rely on current fast-changing local COVID statistics, deciding whether school buildings should remain open or students should temporarily switch to remote learning. 

Rapid transferring to remote learning was dramatic in Spring 2020 when multiple pandemic cases flooded the country. Today, switching to remote learning, back to in person and then back to remote learning has become something of a routine in many districts.

We know that in some districts, especially in rural areas, Internet access is often a challenge. Connection is either weak or rapidly interrupted, which makes remote learning a problem. Internet access should be a priority issue for education policy-makers in many states. (Expanded broadband access is a provision in President Biden’s yet to be passed Build Back Better program.)

The U.S. Department of Education District Administrator portal published a list of districts that temporarily switched schools to remote learning. Among them are Cincinnati Public Schools, which shifted to remote learning from January 12 through January 24, and will come back to in-person if staffing levels will be sufficient to safely reopen schools. In the West, the Great Falls Public Schools in Montana have moved to remote learning until January 18. 


U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona

Photo taken from: Education Week

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In the South, South Carolina’s Sumter School District has moved seven schools to remote learning until January 18. Classrooms have also closed this week in some districts of Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Oregon, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, some of New York school districts, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas.

The U.S. Department of Education recently released the Notice of Proposed Priorities, Definitions, and Requirements for the competitive grant program and is launching a 30-day public comment period. 

“These proposed priorities align with the vision set forth by the Biden-Harris Administration and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in support of high-quality educational opportunities for all students and the important role of full-service community schools in providing wraparound and academic support to students and families that are critical in their academic success.”  

DOE also mentioned that “during the pandemic, community schools re-engaged students, hosted vaccine clinics, provided meals, and secured technology to ensure students can access remote learning.” 

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on resource URL to visit links where available 

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Capturing the benefits of remote learning:


What have we learned about remote learning?

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Virtual school resulted in ‘significant’ academic learning loss, study finds:

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