State officials announce school closures
It’s been just more than a week since River Region students and families began hearing news that their educational pursuits would be put on hold because of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.
As the number of confirmed cases rise throughout Alabama, colleges have shuttered their campuses and postponed graduations, and K-12 students have been sent home, leaving parents with many unanswered questions.
More than any other time in recent history, people are sheltering at home — with beaches, bars and dine-restaurants forced closed and private businesses choosing to end production.
Here’s what’s happened
Higher education institutions were the first to react, with the state’s largest universities announcing the transition to online courses, most on March 12. Some have transitioned temporarily, like Troy University, while others have shuttered all campus activities through the end of the semester, like Alabama State University.
Alabama’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced Friday, March 13. As of Sunday, that number has risen to 138. With this, universities have also began to postpone their graduation ceremonies.
The following day, on Friday, March 13, Gov. Kay Ivey and state superintendent Eric Mackey announced all public Pre-K and K-12 schools would close through April 6. That timeline, for about 90% of the state’s districts, will cause seven days of missed instruction time.
For others though, that were already on spring break, the gap is larger.
How students would continue to be fed was the first priority districts started to tackle.
Alabama applied for a waiver to the USDA that allowed districts to organize meals that could be picked up by students, rather than congregate in place to eat them.
Montgomery Public Schools announced it would begin feeding students breakfast and lunch starting Monday, March 23. Parents can pick up both meals at the same time at the 16 schools that have been designated as feeding sites.
For a list of how other districts throughout the state are feeding students, check here.
Alabama’s Education Task Force meets
On Tuesday, March 17, state superintendent Mackey announced he had formed an 11-person task force to determine whether or not to extend the closure of schools, and what would happen there is an extension.
The group’s first action of business was to develop a survey for all superintendents to evaluate how each would be impacted by closing past April 6. Seniors and parents, Mackey said, should not worry about graduation — that the state would ensure each qualifying senior would receive a diploma by summer’s end.
How that would work, though, has not been determined.
Standardized tests put on hold
On Friday, March 20, Mackey announced that Alabama students won’t need to take standardized tests this year.
Great news, he said, because of the negative impact the gap in instruction students have experienced would have on the scores and the work that would be required by state department officials.
Alabama was set to roll out a new assessment this year. Current accountability scores for districts and schools will roll over for next year.
Schools are expected to be closed for some time
Also on Friday, Montgomery Public Schools Superintendent Ann Roy Moore said she expects the school closure to be extended past April 6. While no definitive answer has been made, she pointed to other states who have decided to shutter for longer.
MPS, the state’s fourth largest school district, is one of the about 10% that will experience a longer gap in instruction. It’s student population, with about 60% considered economically disadvantaged, are less likely to have access to technology and internet.
Federal equity laws require all students have the same access to learning, meaning the figuring out the logistics of implementing required online assignments are unlikely.
Aside from the health safety of students, Moore said her biggest concern is the learning gap students will experience.
Lanier teacher helps other parents while staying home with his own kids
“Down the line I’m thinking if we extend this closure by a couple two to three weeks, we’ll have to figure out what we’re going to do,” Moore said, adding that extending the school year or starting next year earlier are options that are being explored.
“We’re just hoping parents will be diligent and not just have kids at home without any academic structure,” she said. “We really don’t want those huge learning gaps.”
The district is expected to start sharing online resources with parents starting Monday. Additionally, a local teacher created a Facebook group to share activities and resources with families.
Alabama’s confirmed case count has increased each day since the first was announced. As testing centers and labs are expanded, that number is expected to continue to grow.
As of now, most of the state’s restrictions have been given an April 6 deadline. But, Mackey’s task force is expected to give a recommendation to the Governor by March 30 on whether or not to keep schools closed.
How Alabama will ensure its students are prepared to go on to the next grade after such a gap in learning isn’t an easy feat.
The task force, Mackey said, is looking at how other states are handling the shut down and exploring what the best options are.
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- Navigating Education at Home – Spectrum News
- Special education inconsistent in California school districts during closures – EdSource
- EDUCATION FOR WHAT? | The Crusader Newspaper Group – The Chicago Cusader
- Hernando schools await governor’s decision on technical education building – Tampa Bay Times
- Police plan education, measured enforcement of statewide stay-at-home order – Press Herald
- Secretary DeVos Announces New Federal Deadline Flexibility for Career and Technical Education Leaders, Allowing Them to Focus on Serving Students During the COVID-19 Outbreak – U.S. Department of Education