Washington education officials have a new message for the state’s schools: buildings may be closed, but school must go on.
The state’s Education Department released guidance Monday that calls on school districts to provide some form of instruction while schools are closed because of the novel coronavirus.
The guidance represents the first time the state has said across-the-board, some form of instruction is mandatory. Districts must resume class in some format by March 30, a spokesperson for the state Education Department said. Beyond that, the state offered few mandates of what instruction should look like.
“Although schools are closed and are not providing traditional in-person instruction, education must continue,” the new guidelines read. “We have an obligation to our students to provide them with opportunities to continue their learning during this pandemic.”
The state’s new guidelines are loose and leave room for interpretation.
Officials are asking schools to develop weekly plans for students, including those with disabilities, and to contact families on a regular basis. Teachers are expected to monitor students’ progress, help them set goals and offer online or paper-based instruction depending on students’ preferences. Along with the guidance, education officials created a long list of free virtual tools for teachers, students and parents and offered a sample “plan” for how districts could roll out distance learning.
Last week, the state Education Department encouraged districts to focus their attention on high school seniors. On Thursday, the state’s Board of Education will consider a program that allows districts to waive certain graduation requirements.
In the week since Gov. Jay Inslee ordered all public and private schools closed, districts have had leeway to offer remote instruction or not; state law gives districts local control over many aspects of education. While there was no clear mandate on instruction, Inslee said districts were expected to provide food to those who need it and offer child care to certain groups of kids.
Last week, state Superintendent Chris Reykdal told The Seattle Times union contracts require teachers to continue teaching, so long as they’re being paid. But there is no specific statutory requirement that school goes on when buildings are closed, he said.
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