A Plea for Help as Students Blast Distance Learning at Legislative Hearing

State lawmakers were told in no uncertain terms in an online hearing this week that the last  school year has been a wasted opportunity due to shutdowns that have kept students mostly at home and away from class. Students from around the state delivered the same grim message to members of the House Education Finance Committee in the middle of the school day about their isolation from teachers and classmates.

“Distance learning feels very optional. You go to school by opening a laptop,” Karen Guise, a junior at Red Lake Senior High, told lawmakers. “It’s  so easy to open it and feel overwhelmed by a bunch of assignments. Discipline is not the problem. It’s the fact that many students do the assignments to get them done and not to learn.”

It’s clear that the lack of personal interaction with teachers and peers has led to failing grades and higher stress in far higher numbers, due to the closure of in-person learning by most school districts during the pandemic.

“Once the missing  assignments start piling up and grades start to slip it’s really hard to come back from that,” said Isaac Foxx, a junior at Southwest High School. “We had a meeting earlier and it was showing the percentages of each subject the students are failing and it’s up a lot from the year before.

Another student testified that some of her friends have to rely on their phones to go to school online and keep up with their assignments.

“Many students in my school have to use their phones as a way to get to class through Zoom,”  Jaden Henderson, a Bemidji High School junior told the panel. “And using a device such as a phone can be very distracting and you can be easily sidetracked.”

The best committee chair Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, could do to soften the blow of the students’ devastating critique of how the K-12 system has let them down was by making the most of their virtual appearance at his first hearing.

“We chose to start this biennium’s hearings with youth voices,” said Rep. Davnie. “This is very similar to what we did the previous biennium as well, because we believe it’s important that we listen to these voices and that we hear from students directly on what their experience of education in Minnesota is.”

But the legislative journal Session Daily pointed out top students have also struggled to maintain their edge throughout the protracted absence from the classroom.

Katelyn Dorry, a junior at Grand Rapids High School, said she has always been an eager and engaged student who aspires to go to an Ivy League school. However, she said distance learning has sapped her motivation and been detrimental to her mental health.

“I’m a social being that learns in a structured environment with back-and-forth interaction with my teachers and peers,” she said. “This year, the isolation on top of everything has been crushing.

“This pandemic brought me to my knees. I went from feeling invincible to just feeling small. Unable to keep up with my own expectations of myself, with the extracurriculars I need to participate in, with my duties as a Minnesota Youth Council rep. Honestly, my anxiety is the only thing keeping my grades up.”

The overall message was clear. Distance learning has been an overwhelming failure that must be reversed ASAP, not next month. Liberals have long urged us to listen to the kids. But throughout the pandemic policy makers have made it clear they listen far more closely to another voice that opposes reopening schools–the teachers union.

“I know many students including myself feel like complete failures,” said Red Lake student Karen Guise. “We feel like we should be doing more  because we know we could do more. Nobody’s harder on us than ourselves.”