Large Districts Announce School Year to Start 100% Online
In Nashville, students will receive at least two hours of real-time instruction each day but the bulk of learning will be done at each student’s own pace.
7/15 UPDATE: As coronavirus numbers soar in some states, more school districts are announcing a fully virtual start to the new school year, including Arlington (Va.) Public Schools, San Francisco (Calif.) Unified School District, Santa Clara (Calif.) Unified School District, Pasadena (Calif.) Unified School District, Long Beach (Calif.) Unified School District, Santa Ana (Calif.) Unified School District, Glendale (Calif.) Unified School District, and Houston (Texas) Independent School District, among others.
Some districts are basing their decision to reopen on a standard generally agreed upon among epidemiologists that in order to control community spread, the average daily infection rate among those who are tested should not exceed 5%, according to Yahoo.com.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced schools across the state would only reopen in September if they were in a region where the average daily infection rate was below 5% over a two-week period. None of the state’s 10 regions currently have an infection rate over 2%.
More U.S. school districts, including two of the biggest in California, have announced they will start the 2020-2021 school year completely virtual.
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), which have approximately 720,000 students combined, made the announcement Monday that they won’t be bringing students back to classrooms when school starts next month, reports ABC News. School officials said the decision was made due to a rise in coronavirus hospitalizations and infection rates in the state. Los Angeles County has more coronavirus cases than any other county in the state.
“There’s a public health imperative to keep schools from becoming a petri dish,” said LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner. “The health and safety of all in the school community is not something we can compromise.”
In a letter to parents, SDUSD Superintendent Cindy Marten said nothing has been decided beyond beginning the academic year online. On Aug. 10, an update will be provided on the possibility of returning to in-person learning.
“We will get back there, but we just can’t start there,” she wrote.
Both the state Department of Education and the Department of Public health released guidance for districts to follow when reopening, including temperature checks, reorganizing activities such as lunch and recess, and requiring face coverings. However, LAUSD and SDUSD officials are not pleased with the guidelines, describing them as “vague and contradictory.”
LAUSD and SDUSD are just the latest in a growing list of California school districts making similar decisions. San Bernardino City Unified School District announced last week its decision to start the school year with online classes, according to The Mercury News. The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), which has approximately 53,000 students, also announced last week that it will start the first four weeks of the new school year online.
If the spread of COVID-19 slows down, OUSD spokesman John Sasaki said students who want to return to classrooms will be phased in. As an example, he said there could be one group of students who come in on Mondays and Tuesdays and another group on Thursdays and Fridays, with everyone home on Wednesdays so the schools can get a thorough cleaning.
West Contra Costa Unified, which serves 32,000 students in the East Bay, announced it will allow a limited number of special needs students to return to its campuses on Aug. 17.
“I want to be very clear, we want students at school,” Superintendent Matthew Duffy wrote in an email to parents. “We need students at school. Many students need to be at school for a variety of reasons: more engaging educational opportunities, socio-emotional support, access to meals and health care. However, with the rising number of COVID-19 cases in California since the easing of restrictions, it is clear that asymptomatic transmission in close quarters is a key concern. In all good conscience, the safety of students and staff must be our top priority.”
As of July 12, California had 336,000 total cases with 7,086 deaths.
Nashville, Atlanta Make Similar Arrangements
In the Southeast, Metro Nashville Public Schools announced Thursday its 86,000 students would start classes remotely on Aug. 4 through at least Labor Day as coronavirus cases continue to surge, reports The Tennessean. When students and teachers return to school buildings, families will still have the option to keep their children at home to continue remote learning.
Director of Schools Adrienne Battle said students will receive at least two hours of real-time instruction each day but the bulk of learning will be done at each student’s own pace. Learning time will vary based on the age of students and the content. High schools will adopt a semester model with students taking four classes per semester — something district officials said is more manageable in a virtual environment.
“In this virtual learning environment, there will be increased expectations,” said Battle. “We will be assessing. There will be accountability. Attendance will be required. We will be providing grades.”
According to a plan released Friday, Atlanta Public Schools, which has an enrollment of nearly 55,000, will begin the school year with virtual instruction as well, reports AJC. The plan calls for virtual learning for at least the first nine weeks of the school year or until there is a minimal or moderate spread of the virus.
Superintendent Lisa Herring is also expected to ask the school board to delay the start of the school year from Aug. 10 to Aug. 24 to give teachers and staff more time to prepare and give parents time to pick up needed supplies from schools. It will also allow the school to make sure all students and staff have computers and Internet access.
The district would also use the time to connect with families, assess where students are academically, and provide social and emotional support services, Herring said.
On Friday, the Atlanta Council of PTAs recommended the district delay the start of the school year and urged the district to focus on digital learning, citing the district’s many low-income families who are concerned about the health of grandparents who serve as caregivers and the cost of healthcare if someone in the family gets sick.
“Starting the school year off (with) distance learning is safer and less traumatic for students, teachers, and caregivers,” the group wrote in a statement. “Operating under the false assumption that it is safe to open school buildings knowing that the virus is spreading rapidly throughout the city sets up a situation where the schools will likely have to abruptly shut down again.”