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Education Through the Pandemic: From a Four-Fold Increase in F Grades in Connecticut to Expanding Mental Health Services For Colorado’s Students, 8 Ways States Are Confronting COVID-19

By Joshua Parrish | April 4, 2021

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

State education leaders across the nation are debating the most effective ways to maximize learning time for students after a prolonged year of classroom closures, with many considering extended summer programming, intensive tutoring programs, and other interventions.

Similarly, parents are also split on what will be best for their children’s progress. The 74’s Linda Jacobson specifically highlights a number of states considering bills to allow parents the choice to have their child repeat a grade, a trend seen as national survey data from the CDC shows parents’ skepticisms about remote learning continue to build. For lawmakers, parents, and educators — who are also, of course, grappling with the implications of the pandemic on their craft — the nearing end of this school year is making apparent just how much COVID-19 might alter the course of public education in the U.S.

Here are eight other updates from across the country about how states and school systems are confronting the challenges posed by the coronavirus emergency — and working to preserve student learning amid the pandemic:

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CONNECTICUT – Remote Learning Brings Four-Fold Increase in ‘F’ Rates

The number of New Haven high schoolers failing classes has increased dramatically, mirroring a trend seen in many districts that relied on prolonged remote instruction. The number of students with F’s in five or more classes this winter was four times higher than the previous year, according to data from New Haven Public Schools. African-American and male students have been disproportionately represented among the students struggling with remote school.

COLORADO – State Proposals Seek to Address Rising Mental Health Needs

Across Colorado’s 178 school districts, wide-spread concerns about students’ mental health and wellbeing are rising. Two state proposals to help track and address mental health concerns are being considered by lawmakers and, if approved, could provide students and educators with free mental health screenings and counseling sessions. “This proposal, which is part of the Colorado stimulus package and our behavioral health roadmap, will help to connect students with critical services to help provide support during these difficult times,’ said Shelby Wieman, acting press secretary for Gov. Jared Polis.

MICHIGAN – Some Schools Reverse Course on Reopening Plans After Spike in Transmission

Despite recently instituted safety precautions, some Michigan schools have further delayed reopening or returned to a virtual setting after sharp spikes in COVID-19 transmission. Don Wotruba, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Boards, notes that the “start-stop-restart process” is not new and opines that the real test will come after spring break, as federal guidance weakens social distancing measures and ramp up testing and vaccine distribution.

IOWA – Virtual School Prepares For Fall Launch

The Sioux City school district has provided more information about a new online school that will be open to all the district’s over 15,000 students, as well as students from other Iowa districts. The K-12 virtual academy will provide laptops and internet equipment and online classes will begin this fall. Students will participate in classes daily and follow the same academic calendar as the traditional public schools.

ILLINOIS – Three Year Grant Program Will Expand Community Health Services

Chicago plans to spend $24 million of its $1.8 billion in federal stimulus funds on a plan to boost mental health services in the city. Over the next three years, a grant program will seek to expand the number of behavioral support teams for schools and increase services provided by community organizations and nonprofits. Chicago has not yet detailed how it will spend the remainder of its federal stimulus funds. But district leaders have said they will release an “unfinished learning” plan that will detail efforts to re-connect students with decreased attendance or who have lost contact with schools entirely.

MASSACHUSETTS – Boston Schools Delay Reopening, Others Aim for Early May

Massachusetts education officials announced that all elementary schools in the state will be fully in person by May 3 as schools transition from remote learning. Districts were asked to stick to that timeline or request a waiver. Boston Public School officials are asking the Massachusetts education board for a three-week delay before returning to full-time in-person learning at its elementary and middle schools. Superintendent Brenda Cassellius is also asking for an extension to the same date for the Horace Mann School for the Deaf, the McKinley Schools, and the Carter School.

CALIFORNIA – Schools Prioritize Mental Health Services in School Reopening

Education stakeholders at all levels are increasingly focused on the mental health needs of students as schools reopen, citing significant upheaval to their everyday lives, including being separated from their friends amid distance learning, losing loved ones, and facing family unemployment. Amy Cranston, executive director of the Social Emotional Learning Alliance for California, notes that schools can help students understand and process their emotional needs. Expert suggestions include daily check-ins with students, physical activity, engaging projects, and training teachers to recognize signs of serious mental health conditions to know when interventions are necessary.

CONNECTICUT – New Task Force Aims to Help School Recovery, Looks at Summer Learning

The Connecticut State Department of Education has launched a task force focused on assisting the state’s education recovery and providing a framework for enhancing student learning and opportunities this spring and summer. The task force’s top five priorities are expanding academic supports, connecting families and communities, prioritizing safety and social-emotional wellbeing, closing the digital divide, and building summer enrichment programming.

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