Educating Through a Pandemic: 75 Kansas Counties Now in COVID School ‘Red Zones’ to California Libraries Providing Live Online Tutoring, 11 Ways States Are Aiding Schools Amid COVID-19

This update on the COVID Slide collects and shares news updates from the district, state, and national levels as all stakeholders continue to work on developing safe, innovative plans to resume schooling and address learning loss. It’s an offshoot of the Collaborative for Student Success’ COVID Slide Quick Sheet newsletter, which you can sign up for here.

Online classes and exacerbated teacher shortages are causing the increase of class sizes across the nation, with multiple states reporting up to 50-70 students in a (virtual) classroom. For teachers, large virtual class sizes complicate most components of instruction and a lesson, from giving individual attention, creating lesson plans for students at varying levels, encouraging class participation, monitoring attendance, and the list goes on.

Some experts say navigating this uncharted territory will either allow teachers to find and incorporate better, more effective methods of teaching or could result in schools simply treading water. Ultimately, the burden will fall to teachers to transition a heavily in-person learning activity to online spaces, a unfortunate reality that is informing the flight of many educators from public schools to newly considered alternatives, like pandemic pods, one-on-one tutoring, or private schools.

Here are 11 other updates from across the country about how school systems are working to preserve student learning amid the coronavirus pandemic:

1. KANSAS — 75 Counties Now in COVID School ‘Red Zone’

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reports 10 more counties have moved into the worst school reopening zone as a result of an increase in coronavirus cases, meaning 75 counties are now in the red zone for incidence rate. The Kansas Department of Education uses the rate of new cases as one of the five school reopening indicators. Schools within the red zone are recommended to shut down all in-person learning as well as halting sports practices and games.

2. CALIFORNIA – Sacramento Public Libraries Share Resources, Offer Live Tutoring

The Sacramento Public Library is hoping to help parents who are struggling to adjust to distance learning by offering tailored resources like live tutoring. Parents and students can be paired with a free, live tutor by simply visiting the library website and selecting a grade and subject. Librarians reported a sharp increase in the number of people accessing educational resources and encouraged everyone to inquire into the free resources available at their local libraries.

3. ALASKA – Anchorage Delays Plans For In-Person Classes Amid COVID-19 Spike

The Anchorage School District’s plan to bring some students back for in-person classes has been delayed following an increase in transmission rates in the city. According to school district data, Anchorage was in the CDC’s highest-risk category after seeing 272 cases per 100,000 people.

4. MINNESOTA – State Officials Give Okay To Fall Sports

The Minnesota State High School League board of directors voted to allow high school football and volleyball to resume this fall. The high school league conducted a survey that found 80% of its 500 member schools support a return this fall. Not everyone is as enthusiastic, however. Kris Ehresman, Infectious Disease Director for the Minnesota Department of Health, noted that sports led to 62 outbreaks or clusters in the past and commented that she sees, “no difference now in risk from earlier in the summer when the MSHSL decided to wait on these sports.’’

5. OKLAHOMA – State Officials Commit to Planning for Spring Assessments After Feds Signal Waiver Rejections

Oklahoma education officials are planning to move forward with state testing in the spring given that neither the U.S. Department of Education or Congress has indicated support for another testing waiver. Several states have started seeking waivers to suspend testing but Oklahoma State Department of Education Chief of Government Affairs Carolyn Thompson noted, “to be frank, at least from our position, we need that data. Schools need that data. I mean, we have to have it so that we know where our kids are.”

6. CONNECTICUT – Board of Education Approves Reopening of School-Site Clinics

Though schools remain closed for in-person instruction, the Connecticut Board of Education voted to approve the reopening of 16 school-site clinics to provide students, through appointment only, with vaccines, routine health checkups, and preventative dental care.

7. OHIO – Cleveland School District Realizes Longtime Goal to Provide Tech to Every Student Amid Pandemic

Cleveland School District CEO Eric Gordon has advocated for providing every student with an internet device since 2012. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gordon worked to ensure each student had their own device for online classes, intending to make the change long-term with a tax increase proposed by ballot issue 68. If passed, as much as $5 million of the estimated $23 million in new revenue would be invested to maintain technology access.

8. FLORIDA – Miami Schools Prepare For Earlier-Than-Planned Reopening

Forced to choose between reopening schools or losing million in state funding, Miami-Dade school board unanimously voted to begin in-person learning earlier than previously planned. Miami-Dade has the state’s worst coronavirus caseload and the largest school district in Florida. A statement by the United Teachers of Dade said the board’s decision to reinstate in-person learning was made “too quickly and without preparation.”

9. NEBRASKA – Wave of Coronavirus Infections Disrupt Schools in Western Nebraska

Several western Nebraska schools have seen an alarming rise in outbreaks of new coronavirus cases. 42,278 people have tested positive in Nebraska, with almost 500 new cases on September 23 alone. This has led to schools taking steps to reduce the spread of the virus, including ending the policy that allowed people to opt-out of wearing masks and postponing social and sporting events.

10. ILLINOIS – Early Grades, Special Education Students Returning to School First

Peoria Public Schools board announced that some students will be returning to the classroom in tiers. K-1 students can return Oct. 5, special education students return Oct. 12, and grades 2-4 students return Oct. 26, with all beginning in-person learning for two days a week. District superintendent Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat also announced the district will work with Shield Illinois to provide tests with rapid turnaround results. Further, a digital equity grant has allowed the district to purchase WiFi hot-spots for five school buses which can be parked in neighborhoods for families who may not have internet access. Finally, the board approved a new curriculum called Black History 365 to be provided throughout all four years of high school.

11. IDAHO – School Districts Across State Differ in COVID-19 Data Transparency

Idaho school districts vary significantly in their reporting of COVID-19 cases in schools, with several refusing to release information, claiming doing so would violate federal privacy laws. However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (commonly called HIPAA) privacy rules do not apply to schools. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education specified in March that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act doesn’t prevent schools from releasing details about COVID-19 cases — provided the information is not personally identifiable.

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