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One Family’s Remote-School Tale – The New York Times


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Virtual school is going better for Valerie Cruz and her son Brian now than it did last spring. It’s still not easy.

She and Brian, who started seventh grade this week, are no longer trying to do work and school sharing a single laptop and smartphone as they did a few months ago. Brian’s school, Immaculate Conception in the Bronx, resumed with live online instruction instead of the self-guided lessons from the last school year. His teachers are in constant touch.

Many schools, teachers and parents are better prepared for remote instruction this fall than they were in the pandemic panic of the spring. It’s still a disaster for many, difficult even in the best of circumstances and unmanageable for some families, including those who are homeless or can’t access reliable internet service.

Cruz is balancing her hope, anxiety and personal challenges that make remote learning harder. She is a single mom with a full-time job out of the house, and she had to scrimp to buy internet service at home.

Like many parents, Cruz is dealing with a tough situation and making it work. She said that the school had been supportive, and that Brian liked the independence of online learning. She feels differently.

“I’m not a fan of it,” she told me. “I feel like he’s missing a lot of the socialization that he should have and the routine.”

When school resumed, Brian’s parochial school gave families a choice of in-person classes or learning from home. Cruz said that she and Brian have health conditions that put them more at risk from the coronavirus, so they opted for virtual. People who chose remote instruction needed to stick with it for at least one quarter of the school year.

Cruz said many things were going well so far. Through the New York Education Department and the school, she got an iPad and laptop for Brian to use for online video classes and his class work. Parents got a run-through of the curriculum for the semester, and she dropped by school last week to pick up textbooks. Teachers are holding virtual “office hours” for one-on-one time with students who aren’t there in person.

None of that happened in the spring, when students worked on assignments on their own and posted them to Google Classroom.

And now, at least, Cruz has internet service — although that was a slog. She said she hadn’t needed internet service at home, and then suddenly did when both her job and Brian’s school went remote in the spring. She piggybacked on a friend’s service for awhile or used her phone to provide internet, but the connections were spotty.

Cruz said she tried to call for discounted internet service for families, but she couldn’t get through. She’s cut back on other expenses to buy a $135-a-month package of internet, phone and TV service.

Cruz said she was hopeful about the new school year, but also anxious. She is back working in the office of a vision health care organization part of the week, and she’s worried about Brian staying on task when she’s not home. She sees his teachers working hard, but is concerned that they’ll burn out.

“They’re doing a wonderful job with what they have,” Cruz said. Without more money and manpower, “it’s hard to see how to make that better.”

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There is so much information fired at us every day about what’s happening in our world — a lot of it good, some of it twisted or false. It’s difficult to be an informed person.

Apsny Newsstarted a feature called Daily Distortions in which our reporters debunk and add context to misinformation that has spread online. It’s helpful!

I saw earlier this week what seemed to be a disturbing report on Facebook that a man with a Molotov cocktail had set off the wildfires that are devastating parts of Oregon. It turns out, NOPE.

My colleague Kevin Roose walks through what was true and not. Short version: There was a man with a Molotov cocktail who was suspected of setting several small fires, but the fires were put out quickly and didn’t cause any damage. This man wasn’t why the wildfires started.

The false information countered the reality that the causes of wildfires include climate change, which makes places hotter and drier.

(Side note: Have you seen the TikTok videos of a firefighter explaining the reality behind incorrect theories about the wildfires?)

Other items in the Daily Distortions feature already: A Twitter account that began as a parody switched into a hub for false information about the wildfires in the West. And Facebook and Instagram flagged clips of a Fox News show that repeated false information about the origins of the coronavirus.

For more reading on this topic, I found this column from June to be a useful guide to evaluating the information we see online. And my colleague Jessica Grose this week wrote about what to do when fellow parents share falsehoods on social media. Empathy, openness and kindness are key. (To everything in life, really.)

Here is something else to keep us informed: Will the pandemic permanently inject more technology into health care, and what does that mean for our well being? The Times is hosting a virtual event today at 2:30 p.m. Eastern time to wade into telemedicine, the privacy of our health information, the future of Medicare payments and more. You can reserve a spot here.

  • Health data isn’t always useful: Is it useful for people to regularly measure their blood oxygen saturation — a feature new to the Apple Watch and in some other smart watches? Probably not for most healthy people, my colleague Brian X. Chen wrote after asking medical experts. He explained when the feature might be useful now or serve as fodder for future health research, and when it might make us unnecessarily anxious.

  • Amazon is coming to your neighborhood: I’ve written before about Amazon opening more merchandise warehouses and delivery stations close to large population centers to make speedier deliveries. Bloomberg News detailed Amazon’s suburban expansion, and described one town that is glad to have Amazon move in but is worried about clogging neighborhood streets with delivery vans.

  • A death sentence by a Zoom court: Nigeria is grappling with whether virtual courts can be fair, the technology news publication Rest of World wrote. Some lawyers and legal advocates in the country say a man who was issued a death sentence in a trial over Zoom didn’t get all the legal options that would have been available in an in-person trial.

A tweet from my colleague compelled me to look at photo after photo of Valais Blacknose sheep. I’m now obsessed with the patches of black wool on their knees.

We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you’d like us to explore. You can reach us at ontech@nytimes.com.

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