What if a teacher gets COVID-19? Can distance learning be better?

Rochester Public Schools students had a chance to ask questions, share suggestions in an online forum this week.

Rochester Public Schools RPS logo
Rochester Public Schools

Although there are plenty of adults with a vested interest in whether there will be in-person classes to start this school year, students themselves recently had a chance to weigh in on the topic.

Rochester’s three public high schools held a joint, virtual forum for students to express their thoughts and concerns about the start of the school year and how that will play out with the ongoing pandemic. It is unclear, from a recording of the event, how many students participated.

Throughout the meeting, there were questions related to the three possible models the School District may implement: in-person learning, distance learning, and a hybrid. RPS is expected to make its announcement on Friday regarding which system it will implement for the start of the school year.

The three high school principals, as well as the district’s equity coordinator, responded to the questions with the information that is currently available. At times, though, the school leaders clarified that they did not yet have some of the answers.

For example, one student asked how in-person classes would affect those who don't have access to health care. If a student contracts the virus, will the rest of the students in the class be able to get tested for free?


What about teachers? What if a teacher contracts the virus? What if that same teacher has been working closely with a small group of students?

“What if a teacher gets COVID?” a student asked during the forum. “They’re frankly just scared, and I’m scared to go back to school.”

A task force has been making preparations for all of the three models that the School District may implement, and a section of that task force has been focused on safety. That being said, they are still working to figure out some of the answers to those possible issues.

“We, too, have that same concern ... we’re going to see a staff shortage with sickness; you’re going to see a substitute teacher shortage with sickness,” one of the principals said in response. “Frankly, we don’t have a great answer at this point in regards to who would be able to fill those shoes.”

The School District has previously clarified that even if there are in-person classes, families can opt into a distance-learning model if they choose.

Some of the input during the forum was centered around improving aspects of the distance-learning system that was implemented last spring, since students may have to use the system again. For example, can there be more ways to contact a teacher than just through email, since teachers are bombarded with emails from students.

Similarly, there was a question about whether there could be more training for teachers so they can adapt better to a remote working environment.

Several students asked about classes that have hands-on aspects. Although a lot of learning can be done through the internet, what happens when it comes to science labs?


There were some solutions suggested for a number of the questions. Perhaps, for lab days, there could be small groups of students that use the space at any one time. For students who benefit from speaking to their teachers in person, maybe there could be some sort of office-hours system in place.

Or, what about classes like mechanics that are more hands-on?

Like the question about lab time, the administrators said there may be options available under the hybrid model for such classes. If a school is restricted to distance learning, however, students may have to do the best they can with the options set before them.

“We’ll do the best regardless of what scenario we’re working with,” one of the principals said.

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or
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