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The more the omicron variant rages across the country, the more spikes we are seeing in widespread teacher shortages, student absenteeism, and a scarcity of school bus drivers. As NATP members and our testing peers nationwide forge ahead with spring testing plan, we can’t help but worry about how this may impact assessment.

See highlights below for insights about why pivoting to remote learning has been harder for some districts than others:

  • Superintendents from Vancouver, Wash., to Portland, Maine, have sought to shift at least partly to remote learning to keep instruction going.
  • But some districts are having a much easier time making the pivot than others. Why is that?
    • Virtual learning days are highly restricted, due to state regulations.
    • Districts have limited flexibility to transition to full-time remote instruction.
    • More than half of states let districts decide on their own.
    • A lot of politics at play no matter who makes the decision.
    • No easy way to make the calculation of whether it makes sense to go remote.
    • Most students learn better in person than they do virtually.
    • Schools can remain open safely, if they require students to wear high-quality masks, put in place air-filtration devices, and improve ventilation.
    • Testing students regularly for COVID-19 and encouraging staff and students to get vaccinated also help make school buildings safer places.
    • There’s no right or winning choice.

No virtual option

  • Connecticut, Iowa, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah have firm policies to keep districts from pausing in-person instruction.
    • Texas – districts that decide to go virtual forfeit state dollars for each day students are learning at home, with only narrow exceptions.
    • Iowa – passed a law requiring its districts to offer in-person instruction at all times.
    • Connecticut – remote learning days don’t count toward a district’s required 180 days of instruction, so if a district opts to move classes online, students and teachers will have to make up the day at the end of the year.
  • These policies are not well received by all.
    • Connecticut teachers have expressed significant frustration with the state’s lack of flexibility by wearing black on Jan. 12 to put pressure on state leaders to provide more masks, expand access to COVID-19 testing, and allow local district leaders to move to remote learning if they think it’s necessary without having to make up the time later in the year.

Allow virtual options

  • At least ten states allow districts to move to virtual learning, but only if certain conditions are met.
    • Kansas – districts can shift to remote learning for 40 hours of instruction, or roughly a week of school.
    • llinois – districts can go to virtual instruction, but first, they must consult their local public health department.
    • California – districts generally lose state funding if they go remote (exception for individual schools with staffing shortages).
    • Maryland – Prince George’s County school district decided to pivot to remote learning from late December until the middle of January, in part because of major staffing shortages and was met with pushback from the state’s governor who called the decision “a huge mistake.”
  • More than half of states leave it entirely up to districts to decide whether to stick with in-person learning or switch to virtual instruction.
    • Minneapolis School District – plans to move back to remote learning for two weeks, after about 400 teachers stayed home this week.
    • Ohio – Dayton Public Schools went virtual for at least two days this month because employees were out sick.
    • Oklahoma City Schools are also moving classes back online because of lack of staff.

Conclusion

  • Superintendents want students to learn in person as much as possible, but sometimes there are just no workable alternatives.
  • Decisions made locally allow superintendents to be as innovative as they need to be.
  • No matter who makes the call about remote learning, policymakers and district leaders must be able to explain it to the community.
  • Whoever is making the ultimate call, there’s bound to be backlash.

Read more HERE

Sample backlash

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