skip to main content
caption: Distance Learning
Enlarge Icon

Washington state sets Monday deadline to get students back to learning

Schools are closed in Washington state for at least another month. But the state Superintendent of Public Instruction has ordered districts to start working with all families to get back into learning mode beginning Monday.

KUOW’s education reporter Ann Dornfeld has this update.

This guidance from the state is a change from what state superintendent Chris Reykdal first told districts a few weeks ago, right?

It is. Before the entire K-12 system in Washington shutdown, Superintendent Reykdal warned districts that if they close schools, they should not turn to online learning unless it could guarantee equal access for all students.

Not all students have high-speed internet or computers at home. So most districts, including Seattle Public Schools, said that they may offer some enrichment activities during their closure, but that they didn't have the resources or the training to continue classes online.

Seattle has handed out learning packets to students. They’re doing some classes on TV and there's been some online learning going on, but it's been kind of piecemeal.

I understand that Superintendent Reykdal told districts earlier this week something a little different, that they have to find a way to achieve remote learning. Is that right?

Right. He said that learning has to continue for every student during the six-week closure and that districts should start getting back in the game on Monday.

On a conference call with reporters just a few minutes ago, he said that OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) does not expect districts to have fully-realized distance learning for all students starting on Monday, but that they should at least be figuring out how to deliver services to each student based on that student's needs:

“Doing nothing isn't an option. You need to start walking up this curve and delivering learning opportunities for families now that this thing has been shut down, now that we have some additional flexibility from the Feds, now that families understand really how significant this timeline may be.”

Reykdal said he expects school will be back in session on April 27, but that the state has to plan for everything, including the closure lasting the rest of the school year.

A new directive from the state superintendent, and how have districts responded?

It's really sent them scrambling to come up with plans. They've all been doing their own thing so far, and they'll continue to do their own thing. But, from very little in some districts has been happening, much more organized remote learning has been going on in some well-resourced districts.

In Seattle, which is the state's largest district, Superintendent Denise Juneau told KUOW today that the district is working with teachers to develop “a robust learning plan, a new set of expectations that will roll out on Monday.” In Seattle, that might be a combination of delivery models, the district says-- online, paper, phone office hours, things like that.

Juneau addressed the criticism that this district has not moved to a fully online model as some districts have done around the country:

“I just need people to know that we have been working on developing plans, that there are a lot of schools I know in the area that are moving forward and have flipped around to attempting online learning. But we are a big system and it just takes a little while, but we've been trying to be very thoughtful, and deliberate, and equity-focused, and student-centered as we move this ball forward.”

There are some hurdles that Seattle has faced as it goes through this process, like coming to an agreement with the teachers union about what working looks like now.

The district and Seattle Education Association, the union, signed a memorandum of agreement yesterday that clarified some expectations and boundaries about what's being asked of teachers.

Over the past couple of weeks in schools closed in Seattle, some teachers put together elaborate online lessons and checked in with kids by phone, but other teachers have done very little some parents say.

This agreement requires that teachers continue working through the school closure, that they'll check their email at least intermittently and be available for phone calls during work hours, and that high school teachers will make sure that seniors on track for graduation stay on track.

But I spoke to a district staffer who told me that no one has seemed to want to make the first move In Seattle toward a game plan for remote learning, not the district or the union, not the principal's union. And this staffer told me that no one wants to be the one to go out on a limb with a plan that will likely upset some faction, whether it's parents or teachers or district leadership. So, it's been interesting to watch, he said.

That's Seattle. What are other districts planning in terms of remote learning for next week?

I contacted 15 or 16 and they told me for the most part they're still figuring out their plans.

North Shore School District, which was the first one to close for any length is the furthest along that I've seen. Their plan calls for mostly Monday-Wednesday-Friday school week, with a couple hours of online classes each day, then office hours the rest of the day for students to connect with teachers and planning periods for teachers.

Many teachers are, of course, home with their own kids right now, so there are limitations to what they can accomplish.

Districts have to keep in mind their legal responsibilities when it comes to equitable student learning, right?

Yes, especially the 14% of Washington students with disabilities they need to keep in mind.

Federal law requires the districts ensure that students are served regardless of disability. But online lessons can be inaccessible to students with some disabilities.

So, districts need to get creative on several levels to make sure they're meeting all students’ needs to the best of their abilities, or they could face potential lawsuits down the road.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.