Sixteen-year-old Carlos Prudencio said he had a pretty standard reaction to the news in March that his classes at Lynn English High School were canceled.

“Like any high school student — cool, mini vacation in the middle of the year,” said the sophomore. “Then days turned into weeks. And a week turned into a month. And then you just get confused after that.”

Prudencio, who has been taking remote learning classes in Lynn while schools are closed, said he only received two assignments in the first several weeks off.

“I was like, damn, there's nothing to do anymore,” he said.

A Suffolk University/WGBH News/Boston Globe poll released Tuesday found that more than one-third of surveyed parents of school-age children in Massachusetts feel that the remote learning offered by their school district is poor, or not very good.

This comes as schools face significant challenges in educating students during the pandemic, especially in districts with fewer resources.

Another student at Prudencio's school, senior Julianna Perry, said she received more outreach from her teachers.

Julianna Perry, a senior at Lynn English High School, poses for a portrait outside of her home in Lynn, Mass., on May 5, 2020.
Meredith Nierman WGBH News

“We did have Zoom calls, but a lot of students weren't attending them, so they did become like little check-ins, and things like that,” Perry said. “And then we can't really learn something brand new. So we're really just going over things that we've already learned.”

Perry plans to attend the University of Hartford in the fall and said she’s noticed how different her remote-schooling experience sounds from that of her future college classmates as they chat online.

“They’re all like, ‘Oh, I have class today. We have to do this. We have to do that. Oh, I have homework right now,'" she recalled. “And here I am doing nothing.”

Perry’s not really doing nothing. The future biology major said she has stayed engaged in the two high school classes she cares most about — anatomy and AP biology. And both she and Prudencio said there’s a lot more to do as of last week, when the Lynn schools shifted course and distributed printed packets of assignments covering new material. But they say it’s hard to stay motivated because — like most districts — Lynn has switched to pass-fail grading.

Lynn School Board Member Brian Castellanos said the fact that the city has had to distribute classwork in printed packets highlights the impact of economic disparity on these students.

“I think this sheds light on a deeper root of poverty in urban districts,” Castellanos said. “An investment like this should have been made. We’re in 2020. Every kid should have had a damn Chromebook.”

Carlos Prudencio, 16, a sophomore at Lynn English High School, holds a packet of learning materials that he recieved from his High School during the novel coronavirus pandemic and related quarantine.
Meredith Nierman/Meredith NIerman WGBH News

Some cities, like Boston, distributed laptops to kids before classes were called off. Castellanos said the Lynn School Committee has now voted to devote some funding for technology.

But the disparities go beyond just laptops, he said.

“How do you create equity?” Castellanos asked. “Because that's what it's about. Equity.”

In Fall River, School Superintendent and former State Education Commissioner Matthew Malone said about 20 percent of families in his district aren’t connected to the internet. So even though they’re working to distribute laptops, some kids can’t use them.

“You know, sometimes I feel defensive when people say, ‘Well, why can’t you just give everybody connectivity?’ I don’t have that luxury,” Malone said. “But the state sure does. And let’s make that a priority.”

Natasha Warikoo is a sociology professor at Tufts University, whose research focuses on education inequality.

"There are huge disparities that are not just about, 'What is the per-pupil spending in this district?' or 'What is the socioeconomic status of families in this district?'" she said.

Warikoo said that in lower-income communities, there are a range of issues in homes that impact a kid’s ability to learn.

“A lot of families are immigrant families — low incomes, a lot of parents working, say, in health care or grocery stores or other kinds of essential work, and where children are having to look after younger siblings, and parents can’t guide their children because of language or because they’re not available,” Warikoo said.

Justin Reich, of the Teaching Systems Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said teachers also are being asked to work differently during the pandemic.

“For the most part, it's not the case that we're asking teachers any longer to directly teach their students remotely,” Reich said. “There's not enough time for that connection. What we're actually asking teachers to do is to train parents to coach their students how to learn independently.”

But that doesn’t work if a parent can’t be home to do that.

Of course, teachers’ jobs are more challenging now, too, as many of them care for their own families or struggle with completely reinventing the way they do their jobs. Teachers' unions have been working out agreements with districts about what’s expected of teachers in an entirely new work environment.

“The [Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] has put out that a child would be expected to have about half as much as they would in a school day,” said Beth Kontos, president of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts. She said that doesn’t mean teachers are working half as much, “because the teachers are working under a totally new normal.”

Kontos said the new normal includes all kinds of additional planning and challenges presented by teaching remotely.

Massachusetts — like other states — has issued guidanceabout how all this should happen. The MIT Teaching Systems Lab recently conducted a study comparing the guidance issued in all 50 states.

“There were some states that said in the first pass of recommendations, we're going to try to just keep doing classes as we had been doing them before with some kind of reduced set of standards,” Reich said.

Other states, like Massachusetts, initially recommended focusing more on reviewing what had already been covered. But when it became clear that schools weren’t going to reopen this academic year, the state education department updated its guidance, encouraging schools to emphasize new lessons.

Many districts are now following that guidance. But school districts are locally controlled and the state can’t dictate how they teach. That kind of direction on remote learning could be important beyond just the next month or so. Reich said the state and school districts better get ready, in case classes can’t fully open up in the fall.

“If we don't do that planning now, we're gonna be hit as flat-footed in August as we were in March,” he said.

Educators should do that planning with an eye towards addressing the persistent inequities that have become all too clear, said Harvard Professor and former Massachusetts Education Commissioner Paul Reville, who is a WGBH News contributor.

“So I'm hopeful that this crisis leads to an opportunity to close some of these not just the digital gaps," Reville said, "but all kinds of gaps that affect students’ ability to attend school in the first place, and be ready to learn when they get there.”

For students and parents, the fall semester can feel like a lifetime away. For now, they’re working through their assignments from home, and trying to learn as much as they can of this semester’s material before the school year is up.