States plan distance learning while schools are closed
School districts around the country are forging new school year expectations during the national health crisis turmoil.
States facing long coronavirus-related closures offer some signposts for educators awaiting guidance from the Oregon Department of Education on continuing education expectations and especially senior graduation requirements.
Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Colt Gill is vetting guidelines with superintendents so that Oregon schools will have a consistent standard. Plans are expected soon.
All but three states have closed all schools, according to data collected by Education Week. At least 10 have closed schools until May or longer.
Kansas was among the first states to put the school year in doubt, with Gov. Laura Kelly announcing a school buildings closure March 17. School districts can apply to reopen buildings after a deep cleaning and after consulting county health officials and guidelines, according to Brad Neuenswander, deputy commissioner for the Kansas State Department of Education.
County rules could include restrictions such as requiring groups smaller than 10 people and staying 6 feet apart.
Some Oregon districts asked to restart small classes, but the ODE’s Newest Questions guidance says no.
Kansas requires 1,116 instructional hours per year. Districts can apply for a waiver but they must agree to continue paying hourly employees and have a plan for continuous learning opportunities that includes special education and other equity considerations, Neuenswander said.
A task force of 40 teachers led by current and past Kansas teachers of the year created continuous learning guidelines. Instructional models include virtual platforms, paper packets, small-group sessions and face-to-face learning. The lessons are a mixture of new learning and review-type work.
The Kansas Education Department suggests schools take it easy on students, though, with maximum content recommendations ranging from 30 minutes in the early grades to three hours for high schoolers.
Teachers are going through five days of professional learning this week to implement the new school environment.
“You won’t replicate what you left, but the point is we have to give kids the opportunities to continue their learning,” Neuenswander said. “This is not about sending worksheets home. This is not about busy work.”
School districts will have flexibility to decide what students need to accomplish to complete current courses. Kansas requires 21 core credits to graduate high school, although many districts require more. Neuenswander said the agency reminded districts they can drop those extra requirements if they want.
Neighboring Oklahoma closed its schools for the rest of the year. On Wednesday, the Oklahoma State Board of Education said it expects schools to provide distance learning by April 6. District leaders must ensure services continue for English learners and special education students.
Schools around the country setting up distance learning must contend with education equity considerations and the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The U.S. Department of Education offered new guidance March 21 on IDEA compliance, encouraging districts to do what they can and saying enforcement would be flexible. Districts can meet the legal requirements by offering alternate access to children with disabilities when distance instruction isn’t accessible, the guidelines said.
"Nothing issued by this department should in any way prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction," U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a news release.
ODE addresses distance learning on its COVID-19 FAQ page, under Navigating Impacts on Education. ODE does not expect schools to transition to online learning at this time, according to the guidance. School districts that have the technology and online capacity to do remote teaching still must consider equity issues and other state educational requirements.
Oregon districts are offering a mixture of online activities and paper packets that are delivered with meals or available for pickup. Some districts, particularly ones with Chromebooks for everyone and deployable Wi-Fi hot spots, are creating extensive online learning opportunities, but education leaders are careful not to call it “school.”
Massachusetts closed its schools until at least May 4, and most of those days will just be lost if they reopen.
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education typically requires schools to schedule at least 185 days. This year, they will be required to stay open until at least their previously scheduled 185th day, usually sometime in June, according to spokesperson Jacqueline Reis. Schools will not be required to stay open past June 30 but they will have the option, she said.
The department’s website offers continuing education guidance, and the agency has also partnered with local public television stations to provide lessons while students are out.
Massachusetts’ only statewide graduation requirement is a 10th grade standardized test. That requirement can only be changed by the Legislature, but most seniors have passed it already. Other graduation requirements are at the discretion of school districts.
The federal government waived Every Student Succeeds Act test requirements, which includes Smarter Balanced tests for Oregon. Hundreds of colleges and universities, including in Oregon, have dropped their standardized test requirements as well.
ODE is still working out which state requirements can be waived or modified.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA