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'This isn't really normal': Families share challenges of remote learning during Washington's corornavirus crisis

KING 5 held a virtual town hall on their experiences with remote learning after classrooms across Washington state were shut to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

More than one million public school students statewide are now learning remotely — an unprecedented move to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

But what does a day in the life of a homeschooler look like and how does that compare to a traditional school day?

We brought together three moms and two teens we brought together for a conversation on remote learning, giving us a glimpse into a world that many of you will recognize. 


Chastity Harrell gave us a virtual tour of her Seattle home.

“Here is my husband’s work space in the kitchen,” Harrell said.

Her daughter is in first grade.

“She’s got my work space and I’ve got mine,” Harrell said.

Other parents in the conversation could relate.

“My challenges are more navigating all the things we have had no training on,” said Megan Laufert, whose daughter Adriana attends Ballard High School.

On March 30, the state determined every public school in Washington would go live with some form of remote learning. Paper packets, Chromebooks and video conferencing were all tools used in the effort to bring the classroom to the living room.

WATCH: Full interview with Washington families on remote learning

RELATED: ‘It’s uncharted territory’: Washington teachers, families adjusting after 1st week of remote learning

RELATED: Washington schools shift to remote learning for the rest of the school year in coronavirus response

During the virtual town hall, we asked parents to talk about the shift of going between schools being canceled to realizing that the students would continue learning, but now it’s on the parents.

“When I picked up my first grader she just came out with a huge bag and said ‘Well this is what we’re doing for the next few weeks. So it was very obvious that it was immediate,” Harrell said.

That challenge only gets more difficult as the students get older. Take sophomore Betty Haas and freshman Adriana Laufert.

“I miss lunch. School was stressful but I could see my friends after, forget about school until I got home and started doing homework,” Betty said.

Ballard High School is asking students to follow this schedule — three virtual meetings a day spread out over seven hours.

“This is only like three classes when we have six in a regular school day —  so we have a lot more wiggle room I’d say.”

Wiggle room isn’t always great for teenagers.

“Since the kids are at home and this isn’t really normal for them," Adriana said. "They’re just acting like they aren’t in school like they can do whatever they want or say whatever they want.”

Keep in mind the assignments aren’t graded — at least not yet. Various districts say they’re still waiting on guidance from the state.

“That’s the other issue too is that there’s inconsistency. Some (teachers) are saying yes we need you to turn this in and it will be held against you if you don’t and some are saying this is very optional we’re just giving you stuff to do.” said Megan Laufert.

“That’s very hard because as a kid where are you supposed to find that motivation,” she said.

We brought these questions directly to the state’s top education official, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal.

KING 5 asked Reykdal what is his message to frustrated parents.

“That we’re all in this, this has never been done before at this scale,” he said.

He says to expect guidance from the state this week on a grading system for remote learning. The Seattle School District this week announced a new format for grading.

RELATED: Seattle high school students to get 'A' or 'Incomplete' in temporary grading change

“This grading question has really emerged from continuous learning so we didn’t anticipate in the beginning we’d need a frame work but a lot of districts have said ‘hey, can you make this more standardized around the state. So we think that’s the last large building block. And then were going to continue to react over the last 8 to 10 weeks,” Reykdal said.  

The lack of accountability is challenging to even the professionals. Alex Haas is Betty's mom, but she’s also a principal at McMicken Heights Elementary School in the Highline School District.

“It did cause friction in the beginning for sure,” Haas said.

She's now a principal who has become a home school teacher.

“I suggested this routine, and her being the age that she is just said ‘no thanks,’” Haas said. 

Teens are quickly learning that education can happen at their pace.

“I just like having kind of a laid-back schedule, it just makes me feel more normal. Being, doing school and being at home,” Adriana said.

“I like to wake up just at a normal time, whenever I feel totally awake, which is before ten o’clock,” she said.

What started as a two week closure to stem the spread of a virus has turned into a full on classroom shut down through the end of the year.

As for the system that has replaced it, even those behind it admit it’s far from ideal.

“There is nothing about this that is normal and nothing that I would normalize about this on a permanent basis,” Reykdal said.