As its children enjoy a summer break limited by COVID-19 restrictions, Seattle Public Schools announced plans this week for fall classes to begin remotely.
The Seattle School Board has yet to approve the recommendation and the extent to which remote instruction will move online remains up for debate.
On August 12 the board is set to vote on the district’s remote learning recommendation, which also calls for increased professional development for educators, including racial equity training, and “predictable and consistent teaching/learning schedule on common platforms, using up-to-date resources.”
SPS spokesperson Tim Robinson said that, although specifics are still being fleshed out as to what remote learning will look like, the Schoology service will continue being used as an organizational tool for students.
“Remote learning is not synonymous with online learning,” Robinson said. “Online learning is a component (a major one, usually) of remote learning. But remote learning can be phone conferences…paper-and-pencil assignments…teachers actually meeting with (at appropriately safe social distance) students, etc.”
The district’s recommendation comes as a reversal of its previous fall proposal, which called for a hybrid in-person and online model. Citing rising COVID-19 infection rates across King County, SPS Superintendent Denise Juneau said schooling should begin remotely and continue “until the risk of COVID-19 transmission has decreased enough to resume in-person instruction.”
School board members Chandra Hampson, Brandon Hersey, and Liza Rankin have been looking into alternative models to exclusively online programming, including a hybrid outdoor and remote learning model with two hours of outside programming almost every day.
“There are other solutions — it’s not just either we do the traditional model or we shut down,” Hampson told Converge Media on Wednesday, following the district’s recommendation announcement. “We need to be a lot more responsive to our families and think about community schools, we need to think about outdoor school — and those are things that I believe we can incorporate into our plans for next year.”
Juneau announced she will host online “town halls” in August to explain more of the specifics of what the district’s recommendation entails.
When district schools shuttered in March in response to COVID-19, weeks passed before Washington’s Education Department made providing some type of remote education mandatory. Even when distance learning began, the district faced mass equity issues as many students did not have access to laptops or stable wi-fi.
When school was still in session at the end of May, Robinson told CHS that, in line with the district’s 2019-2023 Technology Plan bringing devices to all high school students, the coronavirus crisis shifted priority to getting devices to students in need in all grades K-12. Now after months spent identifying need, he says the district is close to meeting this goal.
“We are getting very close to total coverage,” Robinson said. “The district has ordered more devices that should bring things to 100% sometime in the next month or so.”
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