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Educating Through a Pandemic: From Iowa Schools’ ‘Illegal’ Reopening Plans to Texas’s Waiving of Grade Promotion Rules and Indiana’s Funding Threats, 12 Ways States Are Adapting to COVID-19

By Erika Ross | August 18, 2020

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.

A large majority of the nation’s largest 50 school districts plan to open schools remotely for the 2020-21 school year, though even remote plans vary greatly in their details, with some reviewing options for in-person learning as soon as the end of August and others committing to online learning through January.

In recent weeks, however, a growing topic of conversation has been whether to begin in-person schooling for some students sooner than others — with the focus being on students in elementary grades, students who receive special education services and English learners.

Some districts in Florida, Louisiana and Missouri will be bringing elementary students back to school ahead of older students, agreeing that “it’s particularly hard for virtual learning to approximate the academic and social environment of a classroom for young students.”

While falling short of calling for subgroups of students to return to classes earlier than others, researchers at Bellwether Education Partners affirm that districts ought to prioritize resources, services and systems that target students facing “the most significant obstacles.” Their findings indicate that “organizing budget decisions around the supports that meet the needs of special populations of students … will lead to greater overall investments in relationships with youth and families, creating an improved system better prepared to meet the needs of all students.”

Here are 12 other updates from across the country about how school systems are working to preserve student learning amid the coronavirus pandemic:

1. CONNECTICUT — Gov. Lamont: ‘I do not want a lost year’ of education

In an interview with Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont talks about closing the digital divide in the state in attempts to not “lose a year of education.” Remote learning in the spring did not go as planned, as more than 140,000 kids did not log on to remote classrooms, prompting the state to purchase 100,000 Chromebooks to help ensure that students have access to technology.

2. IOWA — Schools look to finalize return-to-learn plans that may violate state guidelines

As district leaders in Iowa prepare to reopen their schools in the fall, some are choosing to ignore state guidelines, despite Gov. Kim Reynolds’s warning that such action will be considered illegal. According to the Iowa Department of Education, reopening plans must account for students receiving in-person instruction at least 50 percent of the time.

3. MARYLAND — As Baltimore County schools prep for a virtual return, parents of special education students wonder if they’ll be left further behind

Adding to the growing chorus of parents and advocates raising concerns about the provision of special education services in school reopening plans, families in Baltimore are worrying that they have nowhere to turn to receive services and resources.

4. INDIANA — State Senate leader warns of less funding for schools online

In a disagreement between the Indiana Senate and Gov. Eric Holcomb, a senate leader is threatening that schools could lose funding if they do not hold in-person learning options in the fall. Gov. Holcomb, however, assures that schools would receive full funding.

5. IDAHO — The Idaho Education Association suggests Idaho schools in COVID-19 hot spots should be taught online to start the school year

As Idaho approaches the beginning of the school year head on, educators are coming together to urge schools to begin virtually. At the time of reporting, nearly 75 percent of Idaho students resided in areas considered “COVID-19” hot spots by public health officials.

6. TEXAS — Gov. Abbott waives grade promotion requirements for 2020-21 STAAR testing

The state’s annual STAAR assessments will be administered as planned in the 2020-21 school year, but they will not weigh into decisions to advance students to the next grade level.

7. WASHINGTON, D.C. — What factors are parents weighing as they make enrollment decisions for their children?

Ahead of the impending school year, the D.C. Policy Center discussed some of the most significant considerations on parents’ and educators’ minds, including transportation, work schedules, alternatives for public schools and the efficacy of online learning.

8. PENNSYLVANIA — School board approves plan for all-virtual education at least until November

Under the revised plan, most schools in the Philadelphia School District will operate online until November. Parents and educators expressed disagreement with the district’s original plan for a hybrid learning model.

9. WASHINGTON — Local families praise state’s online early education program

The Early Childhood Education & Assistance Program, a free preschool program funded by the state of Washington, is being praised by some of the 24 communities it serves for rapidly adapting at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to provide specialized resources for young learners and parents. 

10. CALIFORNIA — San Diego Unified may not reopen for months under stricter standards, officials say

San Diego Unified School District officials are considering plans to reopen schools, even as leaders say that ensuring that they can meet stricter health and safety standards is likely to take months. SDUSD is gearing up to reopen on Aug. 31 through distance learning, requiring six hours of remote instruction during the school week.

11. NEW YORK — A quarter of NYC students opt out of school buildings this fall, while 736,000 are set to return — for now

Over a quarter of a million students in NYC are opting to start their school year virtually, with the remaining 750,000 public school students anticipating attending in-person classes for a limited number of days per week under the district’s hybrid learning plans. Outside of NYC, nearly 1 in 7 New York school districts have yet to submit plans for reopening to Gov. Cuomo.

12. UTAH — State school board says no to stricter reopening rules

The Utah State Board of Education declined to approve stricter requirements for reopening schools, with members stating that they were concerned with placing too many rules on school leaders.

Disclosure: Andrew J. Rotherham, a co-founder and partner at Bellwether Education, is a senior editor at The 74 and serves on The 74’s board of directors.

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