Educating Through a Pandemic: From Alaska Schools Creating Digital Networks to Aid Remote Learning to a Homework Freeze in Texas to Limit Screen Time, 9 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’s COVID Slide Quick Sheet newsletter, which you can sign up for here.

Now that the majority of schools and families in the U.S. have officially begun the new school year, a chorus of concerns are being raised by parents feeling overwhelmed by virtual instruction.

Amid high-profile news of technology failures and lawsuits regarding reopenings, many parents are worried that schools might not be able to serve their child’s needs or that the impact of this year’s educational disruption might reach far into the future. Of course, the long-term economic consequences, to many, are secondary to the hardships being imposed on families and students now, as the pandemic’s toll on life in the U.S. passes the 200,000 mark.

Despite the ongoing challenges, however, examples of leadership and innovation exist at all levels, as teachers, education leaders and advocates work diligently to find ways to restart learning and address student needs. As a part of a panel interviewed by The New York Times, former secretary of education John B. King Jr. highlighted creative solutions employed around the nation to address local needs. Similarly, a new brief released by the Collaborative for Student Success and the Center on Reinventing Public Education details a set of promising practices that emerged from a peer review of district reopening plans. The analysis shows encouraging examples of district and school innovation, as well as a deep commitment by schools and their leaders to meet the challenges of the pandemic head on and with students at heart.

In answering whether he thought that this represented a “lost year” for America’s children, Pedro Noguera, dean of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, described the need for resolve in the face of adversity: “We’ve got to do the work where we are to expand educational opportunities for all students, because our kids’ futures depend on it. We have to do what it takes to make sure that our kids’ futures are not sacrificed.”

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

1 ALASKA — Rural District Finds Innovation Solution to Overcoming Internet Scarcity

The Aleutians East Borough School District is taking matters into its own hands after realizing that it would be unfeasible to expand internet access to its rural students. The district is creating its own digital content delivery system, akin to a local network, that does not require internet access. The new system will enable lessons and materials to be delivered to individual homes.

2 TEXAS — Homework Freeze Adopted to Reduce Screen Time Amid Virtual Learning

In a bid to reduce screen time amid fully online schooling, El Paso Independent School District announced a temporary freeze on homework. Alyse Hachey, lead faculty in Early Childhood Education at UTEP, notes that temporarily halting homework might be beneficial to students as they adjust to virtual learning, especially students in younger grades.

3 MONTANA — Nonprofits Step Up to Supplement Schooling Where Needed

A number of child care organizations and education nonprofits in Montana have worked to rapidly expand their services to adapt to changes to education in the state, reports the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. One such program, titled World Language Initiative Montana, typically offers an afterschool language program, but this year it is offering small-group study halls for kindergarten through fifth grade organized around the district’s new blended learning schedule.

4 NATIONAL — Data Privacy in a Pandemic? Parents Are Concerned but Welcome More Tech

In a survey conducted by the Center for Democracy and Technology, student data privacy ranks “mid-to-low” on the list of most common concerns parents had about education in the era of COVID-19. The CDT warns, however, that privacy concerns are likely to become more common as digital platforms and contact tracing systems integrate with and enable school districts to operate.

5 COLORADO — Governor Polis Announces Innovation Fund to Improve Pandemic Learning

In an effort to address the academic fallout of COVID-19, Gov. Jared Polis has launched a $32.7 million grant program to encourage innovations to benefit the state’s most disadvantaged student populations. The grant program will use federal stimulus dollars and will be known as the Response, Innovation and Student Equity Education Fund, or RISE.

6 NEW MEXICO – New Subcommittee on Special Education Hears Parent Concerns

New Mexico’s newly formed Legislative Disabilities Concerns Subcommittee held a remote meeting earlier this month, allowing parents and advocates to express their concerns to state lawmakers. Parents detailed the ways in which students with special needs were particularly harmed by school closures amid the pandemic, including less access to home materials, ineffective online tools and a lack of socialization that schools typically provide.

7 ALABAMA – State Superintendent Points to Lack of Data Surrounding Widening Achievement Gaps

Alabama has struggled to develop a plan to deliver instruction virtually, particularly in impoverished and rural areas that lack access to necessary technology, only amplifying the concerns many already had for underserved students. State Superintendent Eric Mackey noted that unfortunately, it is difficult to determine who fell behind without the data from end-of-year assessments, which were canceled in the spring at the onset of the pandemic.

8 PENNSYLVANIA – CARES Act Funds to Expand Internet Access in State 

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced that his state’s share of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding will be used by schools to secure broadband internet, mobile hotspots and other platforms that increase equitable access to remote learning. This initiative will work with the state library networks and other public partnerships.

9 NEVADA – Allocated Relief Funds Will Provide Teachers With COVID-19 Tests

The Clark County Teachers Health Trust, the largest public-school employee health plan in Nevada, will test up to 62,500 teachers and support staff in the state. Lawmakers have allocated $6.2 million in federal relief dollars to pay for personnel, test kits, test processing and surveillance. The plan will aim to test teachers prior to re-entering the classroom and will allow teachers to take multiple tests if necessary.

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