Auguste Meyrat is an English teacher at a public high school in the Dallas, TX area, where half of his students are enrolled in virtual classes and the other half are learning in-person. He juggles the two groups by teaching his classes on campus and on Zoom at the same time.

While he’s grateful for the ability to teach in-person, Meyrat warns that with all the COVID-19 rules and regulations, face-to-face classes are “surprisingly not too different” from virtual ones.

“Even though I see them in class, everything is paperless and they’re not allowed to leave their seats because of COVID,” Meyrat said of his students learning on-campus. “So they end up doing all their work on a computer as well.”

Beyond the demoralizing effects of being smothered by face masks, separated by six feet or more and told to see each other as vectors of a virus, virtual learning raises another challenge that’s hardly being addressed in the COVID-19 crisis: accountability.

“Either they cheat on everything, or they hardly bother to log in,” Meyrat said of his virtual students.

Face-to-face students are a little better off, but they can still cheat “relatively easily” since everything is paperless and they’re on a computer.

Meyrat blames the lack of choice for exaggerating the harmful effects of the pandemic, which have disproportionately fallen on disadvantaged and minority students.

“Public schools shut down because they could, not necessarily because they had to,” Meyrat said. “Without competition, there’s little incentive to stay open and provide quality education.”

More than 60% of public school students are starting the school year on Zoom, compared to just 5% of private schools opening virtually this fall. With more school choice, Meyrat believes schools would reopen more quickly.

“Schools—private, public, and charter—would compete to keep students enrolled and do all they could to accommodate parents. In other words, school choice would make schools act as if they were essential—and they are. That’s why my message to parents, students, fellow educators, and policy makers is to push for more school choice and demand more from school.”

While he hopes to see progress on that front, in the meantime, Meyrat plans to continue to do what he loves, in the capacity that he’s allowed, “which is teaching English,” he said.