Reporting back from a meeting held by Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, White Salmon Valley School District Supt. Jerry Lewis told the School Board Thursday evening that distance learning should replace enrichment activities as soon as possible to continue education through the Covid-19 shutdown.
How that may look, however, will depend on data gathered this past week from surveys intended to collect information on students’ access to technology and the internet. That’s because of an ongoing discussion around equity of learning between students with different access to devices that would support education through the internet. Lewis suggested district Chromebooks could be checked out to help fill the gap between students who have access to technology and students who do not.
“There’s no playbook, so we’re building the plane as we fly it,” Lewis said.
Whitson Elementary School Principal Todd McCauley said instruction would look differently between elementary schoolers and high schoolers “given our kids’ needs and the tools at hand.”
Lewis agreed, saying distance learning is not the same necessarily as online learning. OSPI, in a March 23 news bulletin, said districts can provide instruction “using printed learning materials, phone contact, email, technology-based virtual instruction, or a combination to meet student needs.”
Lewis said the situation is already presenting itself with challenges, one of them being the ability to support students’ internet use in terms of bandwidth. Streaming instructional videos, especially when more than one student is working at the same time in the household, can
use up a lot of bandwidth at the same time, slowing the process down.
At this point, Lewis stressed time cannot be wasted. Schools are ordered to be closed through April 24, a shutdown that will last six weeks and is subject to extensions, pending the progression of public health efforts to contain the virus. The School District also added six makeup days to the calendar through June 19 to make up for days lost, and after that OSPI can take action to waive instructional hours, according to a March 6 OSPI news bulletin.
Lewis said continuing instruction past June 19 would be a challenge for a district of their size. If they go beyond the extension date, Lewis said, some districts may not have the funding to cover the instructional hours, although he noted there were resources available to them if needed.
If OSPI chooses to use its emergency power to waive credits for students who missed instructional hours, “next school year could look very different,” Lewis said.
For now, the schools are coordinating individual responses to the situation. Whitson Elementary and Wallace and Priscilla Intermediate schools sent out packets to families, while Henkle Middle and Columbia High schools have prepared enrichment activities in the interim as a distance learning model is developed.
Board member Laurie Stanton raised concerns about how students are supposed to work on packets without the guidance of their teachers.
“It really is a partnership with the [parents and guardians],” Lewis said.
The board agreed to waive graduation requirements for senior projects and service hours at Thursday night’s meeting, citing the time required to be spent with the student’s mentor as they prepare their projects.
“There’s a lot of practice and preparation they would miss out on,” Lewis said.
As well, Lewis acknowledged every district senior is on track to graduate.
Updating the board on staff members, Lewis said meal deliveries are helping to cover staff hours during this interim period. He said he expects staff to be working more hours through spring break since meals will be delivered that week as well. He said the district is delivering around 400 meals per day.