Students and parents are increasingly exploring remote learning this semester as COVID-19 continues to spread, according to local superintendents.

“Enrollment is down 38 students district-wide,” Butte County School District Superintendent Joel Wilson said.

Several students left because their families moved, Wilson said, but the underlying cause of the drop is the coronavirus. With Butte County sitting in the high-risk category for most of the school year thus far, Wilson said many parents were worried about their children’s health at schools.

Mackay schools Superintendent Susan Buescher said the situation is similar in her district. The main reason the 10 students left the district this semester was because of their parents’ concerns about safety in the health crisis.

Mackay students learning from home use a program created by the Idaho Digital Learning Alliance, which Buescher said high school and middle school students have used for years. This year the alliance added K-6 education, because of the pandemic.

“It’s not as good as being in class, but it’s a good substitute for parents concerned about in-person learning,” Buescher said. Wilson said Arco students learning from home use Google Classroom.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, parents are also looking outside of local options for online learning.

Snake River School District Superintendent Mark Kress, who’s running a new online school based out of the district this year, said a couple students from the Salmon and Challis areas enrolled in the program. He wasn’t sure how they heard about the online school, which district staff created to help students in the Blackfoot area who didn’t want to return to in-person learning. About 400 Idaho children are enrolled in the Snake River online school.

A spokesperson for the Idaho Virtual Academy and Idaho Technical Career Academy provided similar information. Between the two schools, several students from the Challis and Mackay areas are currently enrolled. Their reasons for enrolling were not disclosed by academy officials.

Buescher said what’s interesting about this semester with in-person learning isn’t the students who leave, but those who return. She said three students who began the semester online are back in school buildings. Their parents claimed online learning wasn’t working, she said, so they sent their children back to a classroom.

Wilson said people prefer in-person education because of the disconnect between teachers and students when they interact online. Like Buescher, Wilson said several Butte County students who tried remote learning at the beginning of the year are back in school because they prefer face-to-face interactions.

An example Wilson used was Butte County school board members’ recent decision to do away with a hybrid schedule and return to a full week of in-person school.

“We could really see the toll it was taking,” he said of remote learning. “When kids came back, it was a struggle to get back in the routine.”