CT: Districts with distance learning don’t have to make up days
A new directive by the state Department of Education waives the 180-day school requirement for all schools, with state officials noting that the statewide school closures will likely go on for weeks.
“Due to changes in CDC guidance, in which they suggest that there may be long-term cancellations of classes ... we are planning to reduce your reporting requirements and eliminate individual district applications for 180-day waivers,” reads a directive issued Monday by Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s order for a statewide closure of schools had set a March 31 end date, but left the door open to an extension. Allowing the days at home to count as school days gives districts a firm schedule to work with for figuring out an end date for the school year — no matter how long the closures last.
Until now, districts had to go until June 30 before the 180 days would be waived. Now all distance learning days will count as school days.
Cardona said the department focus now is on helping districts provide students with continuing educational opportunities. The department is calling on the state’s regional education service centers, such as Cooperative Education Services and Area Cooperative Education Services, to help school districts with resources and materials.
Districts are advised to start planning lessons providing students with these opportunities immediately.
Cardona’s office said they are basically telling districts to switch from supplemental learning activities to more long-term instructional lessons.
On Tuesday, school superintendents were given an 18-page resource guide with links to a number of online learning platforms designed for students in Grades PK-12. Districts have the authority to devise designed their own plans and lessons. The expectations are the same as if students were in school.
It is not clear how the state will monitor whether the work being sent home is being done. The state says the expectation is that districts will continue to engage all students to the greatest extent possible, consistent with federal and state guidance.
The state has yet to give direction on spring standardized testing although it appears likely the school administered SAT will be postponed.
Some districts have already begun work. Others are still planning. All are expected to begin by Monday.
In Bridgeport, Acting Schools Superintendent Michael Testani has asked teachers to report to school on Thursday and Friday to copy grade level packets of materials for students who do not have internet access or devices at home. The plan is for parents without internet or device access at home to collect the packets on Monday.
For students with internet access, the same materials will be loaded to the district website on a distance learning portal according to the current plan.
In an email to the school board, Testani said the district has to consider every one of the 20,000 plus student in the district. The district has over 3,400 students that receive special education services and more than 4,100 English language learners.
“They will be included in how we make decisions,” Testani wrote.
Students with Individual Education Plans will have packets ready for pickup at the schools on Monday as well.
In order for distance learning to count as school days, teachers will have to be engaged with students and families using email and other methods of communication.
“I know everyone is on edge but we need to be flexible and at the end of the day we’ll do the best we can in a difficult uncharted situation,” Bridgeport Education Association President Gary Peluchette said in an email to faculty.
In Ansonia, where the district has never had a one-to-one ratio of students to computers, Schools Superintendent Joseph DiBacco said the plan is to use packets of materials to start and then roll out a Chromebook and online platform as they get more direction from the state Department of Education.
“We need to get a digital platform up and running in a few days,” DiBacco said. “I am interested to see what the state recommends as an acceptable online platform.”
Stratford on Monday offered families that didn’t have access to a computer an opportunity to visit certain schools in town to pick up a borrowed Chromebook.
Stratford students are being asked to use Google Classroom, where they get and complete online lessons from their teachers.
Schools and teachers collaborated but each has puts its own spin on this, according to Stratford Schools Superintendent Janet Robinson.
At Nichols School, for instance, fourth-grade classroom teachers collaborated to create a folder of work for students to complete. There is a daily schedule to follow. Breaks are encouraged.
A packet of worksheets were also sent home last week for students with no internet access. In that case, parents need to submit the packets for the child to earn credit. Specialists, including music and art teachers, are also posting activities to complete.
At Stratford Academy Johnson House, Principal Maureen DiDomenico, said in addition to lessons and assignments, daily messages of kindness are being posted. There will soon be a contest for students to write a school song and the school’s reading specialist is posting daily Read Alouds — similar to what she would be doing in the classroom.
In Fairfield, where distance learning instruction officially began on Tuesday, online instruction was to begin at 9 a.m. for the high school, 10 a.m. for the middle school and 11 a.m. for elementary school students.
A message went out to Fairfield parents on the district website giving instructions for each grade level.
“We are approaching this day as if it is the first day of school,” Fairfield Schools Superintendent Michael Cummings said in his message to parents. “On the first day of school, you get your books and materials, find your seat, navigate the halls, and figure out how to open your locker.”
That has all become virtual.
Cummings warned there will be a learning curve — for everyone.
“We are now learning all of this together,” Cummings added. How to communicate, pace lessons, assess student learning needs and support social and emotional needs will all be a work in progress.
Shelton’s Interim Superintendent Beth Smith said the district’s Office of Teaching and Learning has put together district resources to support a Distance Learning Plan that will be ready to be communicated on Wednesday.
Some still worry about how equitable online learning from home will be between districts.
Bridgeport school board member Joseph Sokolovic said if the closure is long term, things will get worse for students who are already behind academically.
“Many of our surrounding suburbs are able to implement distance learning, get private tutors and other options to minimize the impact on their children’s education,” Sokolovic said. “Bridgeport however does not have the luxury of Wi-fi in every home.”
If the closure persists for the rest of the school year, Sokolovic also worries about grades, promotion, and graduation.
On social media on Monday, a number of local teachers starting putting the word out that they were available to help students and parents who get stuck.
Staff writer Brian Gioiele contributed to this report.