Q&A on Schools: Buildings Are Closed, But Districts Must Find Ways to Educate Students
The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted March 25 to close public schools for the remainder of the school year and to turn to distance learning in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. COURTESY
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister is shown here speaking to the State Board of Education members during a meeting on May 23, 2019. WHITNEY BRYEN/OKLAHOMA WATCH
Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that produces in-depth and investigative stories on important issues facing the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to oklahomawatch.org. COURTESY
The state Board of Education took the expected steps Wednesday to shutter school buildings for the rest of the school year and implement “distance learning” for all students statewide.
Districts now are tasked with developing a plan to educate their students, who are sheltering in their homes due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Some students’ parents are working, either remotely or physically. Many students lack technology or internet access. High school seniors are worried about graduation.
“It’s going to look different for all schools, and we have to accept that,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said at Wednesday’s board of education meeting.
This monumental, unprecedented educational shift begins April 6. Here’s what you need to know.Why did the board take action now instead of waiting?
The coronavirus situation is developing rapidly and Hofmeister said she wanted to ensure districts had time to plan and make provisions. Districts can’t just flip a switch, make major changes to the way they educate children and still provide meaningful instruction, she said. The board also approved a number of waivers to temporarily relieve districts from meeting certain requirements, and previously waived the year’s state tests and school report cards.Are parents on their own to figure out their child’s education?
No. School districts must devise a plan to educate their students while keeping school buildings closed and extracurricular activities canceled until at least mid-May. Some will utilize online programs. Public television is another option, and the education department is working with OETA to broadcast grade-specific programming during this time.
Districts can’t end the school year now and must figure this out, Hofmeister said. “Oklahoma has tremendous educators – strong, dedicated, tenacious and smart. We have faith and confidence that our districts and teachers are committed to creative and innovative ways to continue learning for their students,” she said.
The department will release a framework and resources on its website (sde.ok.gov) by the end of the week. The Oklahoma Supplemental Online Course Program also has resources available at osocp.ok.gov
.What if a student doesn’t have a computer or tablet, or lacks internet access?
Many districts are starting to survey parents to determine technology and access needs. Schools might be able to loan devices to students in need. The board gave districts additional flexibility to spend textbook funds on technology. In other states, schools are planning widescale distribution of laptops and tablets to students, including Denver and Philadelphia.
Also, the department said it’s exploring how federal assistance could bolster internet connectivity in some districts.Will seniors still graduate?
The top priority for school districts should be ensuring that seniors who are on track to graduate are able to do so, Hofmeister said. Graduation ceremonies, however, will likely have to be rethought. Some districts are coming up with innovative ways to celebrate graduates’ hard work while following guidelines for social distancing, such as holding a virtual ceremony or having graduates parade in their cars. Some districts may choose to postpone commencement to a later date, though many graduates will have moved on to post-graduation commitments.