Online learning is not an option for everyone, according to Greater Susquehanna United Way President and CEO Joanne Troutman.

Quality high-speed internet is not available in some areas of the Valley and, for some, the move to cyber schooling is more complicated than they realize.

“Traditional cyber schooling is really like homeschooling,” Troutman said. “It requires a structure and support system at home and often lots of supervision, especially for young kids. That is especially hard for working parents and guardians who can’t be home to provide that support.”

Some families can stagger work schedules, but that’s not possible for single parents, she said.

Asked what advice she would give, or what resources she would direct parents to, Troutman said she would encourage parents to consider every aspect of the decision.

“It’s easy for parents, given everything happening right now, to want to make a gut decision to move to cyber school. But it’s a really big commitment, which many don’t realize,” she said. “It’s not appropriate for every child or situation, and cyber charters don’t have the same level of accountability that public schools do.

“I would encourage the family to have an open and honest conversation with the district, trusted teachers and counselors in weighing their choices.”

Online programs in local districts can provide some social supports paired with learning flexibility, Troutman said.

For families living in regions of the Valley without access to high-speed internet, online learning provides another challenge.

It was one of the concerns earlier this year when both students and workers were forced to be home due to COVID-19, Troutman said.

The United Way led the initiative to organize 12 community businesses and organizations in the Valley to offer residents free access to their internet service through guest log-ins for anyone without access to reliable service during the COVID-19 crisis. Students staying home for cyber classes and not having access to quality internet is a concern, she said.

“There are some areas that don’t have this access,” said Troutman. “They might not have the level of quality or speed that is needed.” 

Local counties are looking for funding to help move solutions forward, she said.

Line Mountain School Superintendent Dave Campbell estimates that 30 to 40 percent of the student population in the Northumberland County district don’t have access to high-speed internet and many don’t have reliable cellphone service which, he has said previously, “will cause stresses on families and staff, both emotionally and economically.”

Daily Item reporter Justin Strawser contributed to this report.

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