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School & District Management Explainer

Scheduling the COVID-19 School Year

June 24, 2020 4 min read
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Five days a week, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. That traditional school day—so coveted now for its normalcy and essential contribution to how our families, communities, and economy function—probably won’t make a full comeback this fall.

Some school communities will forge ahead with a return to the typical school calendar, but that carries large risks. If there’s an outbreak of the coronavirus, they’ll have to shut down abruptly. But in many school districts, the sheer numbers of students and staff members will make a traditional day impossible under social distancing protocols that public health officials say are necessary as the pandemic persists. The math just doesn’t work when students must stay six feet apart from one another and their teachers.

That’s why a mash up of online schooling and in-person instruction—what we’re calling hybrid scheduling models—is likely to be prevalent this fall.

There are multiple variations of these schedules, and they provide the most flexibility to schools. They also present some of the most challenging logistics and may be especially taxing for teachers who must prepare lessons and instruction for two modes: virtual and in-person.

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Second in a series of eight installments.

These times are unprecedented. Through eight installments, Education Week explores the steps administrators need to take to ensure the safety of students and faculty.

How We Go Back to School is supported in part by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.


Some districts may decide the risk for exposure and transmission remain too high in their communities and will reopen schools in an all-remote environment—putting their planning and execution of a more robust virtual learning experience to the test.

To help district and school leaders understand some of their options for how to schedule school days in a pandemic, Education Week spoke to more than a dozen superintendents, district leaders, and other experts and pored through numerous planning documents and guidelines outlined by state departments of education and local education agencies.

Assistant Editor Denisa R. Superville presents six scheduling scenarios, explains what they could look like, and outlines the pros and the cons.

–The Editors

Downloadable Guide: Building a School Schedule for the Pandemic

Hybrid Schedules

Installment 2Hybrid

This mix of in-person and remote learning can follow many formats and provide the most flexibility for districts to adapt to social distancing measures and shut down quickly if an outbreak occurs in the community. It also empowers district leaders to prioritize in-person instruction for students who need it most: students in special education, those who are English-learners, students who are homeless or in foster care. Depending on the model, operational logistics may be tricky and expensive. And adapting to any unfamiliar blend of some in-school attendance and some remote learning may be challenging for teachers, students, and families.

Education Week spoke to district leaders about the hybrid scheduling options they are considering. And we take a more-detailed look at two potential scheduling models taking shape in the Vancouver, Wash., school district

Deep Dive: Hybrid School Schedules: More Flexibility; Big Logistical Challenges
Deep Dive: Building a Schedule Around Student Rotations

Traditional Schedule With Modifications

Installment 2Modifications

Going to school, every day, for in-person instruction. It’s the ideal scenario that many schools are aiming for this fall. But the final form that live school attendance takes may look wildly different from state to state, community to community.

One of the biggest hurdles in trying to hew as closely as possible to the traditional school day? Finding the space to fit students and staff when class sizes must be smaller. That means getting creative with adaptations and modifications in scheduling and operations. Things like longer school days. Or school on Saturdays.

Education Week interviewed more than a dozen district leaders and other experts on what it will take to provide the closest version of a regular school day amid the realities and risks of the pandemic.

Deep Dive: Pulling Off a Regular School Schedule—With Modifications—in the Pandemic

Year-Round Schedule

Year-round schooling, or a balanced calendar schedule, extends the academic calendar, shortens the summer break, and builds in regular intersessions for remediation, enrichment, and accelerated programs. While it has some ardent supporters—especially for its continuity of learning—year-round schooling has never been widely adopted because of its disruption to cherished traditions like the three-month summer vacation.

But the model provides some clear upsides for schools as the pandemic continues.

Deep Dive: Is It Time to Reconsider the Year-Round School Schedule?

All-Remote Schedule

Installment 2Remote

With the all-too-likely scenario that remote learning must continue for some students and some communities—whether part time or full time—schools know they must improve upon what they did in the spring. Parents and students’ expectations for the experience will be higher. An all-remote schedule must come a lot closer to replicating a traditional, in-school experience for students and for teachers.

Education Week spoke to more than a dozen district leaders and other experts on school operations to discuss how the continued use of remote learning can, and must, get better. It requires much more planning, robust support for teachers, and regular adjustments to adapt to the needs of students, teachers, and families.

Deep Dive: The All-Remote Schedule: No Risk to Health, High Risk to Learning

Other Scheduling Options

OTHER LEAD

No matter what type of schedule district leaders choose for reopening, there will need to be special considerations and exceptions for students who are medically fragile and can’t risk any exposure with in-person attendance. Students who cannot adapt to full-time remote learning will also need alternative arrangements.

Deep Dive: Serving Students Who Can’t—or Won’t—Return to School

Contributors:
Reporter: Denisa R. Superville
Designers/Visual Artists: Laura Baker, Emma Patti Harris, Francis Sheehan, Vanessa Solis, Gina Tomko
Illustrator: Stephanie Shafer for Education Week
Web Producers: Mike Bock, Stacey Decker, Hyon-Young Kim
Project Editor: Lesli A. Maxwell
Visuals Project Editor: Emma Patti Harris

Sources, in alphabetical order: Brett Blechschmidt, chief financial officer, Vancouver Public Schools, Vancouver, Wash.; Sharon Contreras, superintendent, Guilford County Schools, Greensboro, N.C.; Daniel Domenech, executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association; Eric S. Gordon, CEO, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Cleveland, Ohio; Todd Horenstein, assistant superintendent for administrative services, Vancouver Public Schools, Vancouver, Wash.; David G. Hornak, executive director, National Association for Year-Round Education (NAYRE) and superintendent, Holt Public Schools, Holt, Mich.; Mike Magee, CEO, Chiefs for Change; Scott Muri, superintendent, Ector County Independent School District, Odessa, Texas; L. Oliver Robinson, superintendent, Shenendehowa Central School District, Clifton Park, N.Y.; Mike Stromme, deputy superintendent of teaching and learning, Vancouver Public Schools, Vancouver, Wash.; Steven Webb, superintendent, Vancouver Public Schools, Vancouver, Wash.; Robert Zywicki, superintendent, Mount Olive Township School District, Mount Olive, N.J.

Documents: “Rising to the Challenge of Covid-19: A Planning Framework for the 2020-21 School Year,” (May 2020), Los Angeles County Office of Education; “Reentry to a New Normal,” (June 2020), Mount Olive Township School District; “Maryland Together: Maryland’s Recovery Plan for Education,” (May 2020) Maryland Department of Education; “Covid-19 Considerations for Reopening Schools: Initial Guidance for Schools and Districts (May 2020) Kentucky Department of Education; “Considerations for Reopening Mississippi Schools,” (June 2020) Mississippi Department of Education; “Scheduling Concepts for Hybrid Learning,” Aaron Dover, Los Angeles County Office of Education; “Considerations for Schools,” (May 2020) U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention; “A Strong and Healthy Start: Safety and Health Guidance for Reopening Schools,” (June 2020) Vermont Education Agency and Vermont Department of Health; “A Guidebook for the Safe Reopening of California’s Public Schools,” (June 2020) California Department of Education.

Coverage of whole-child approaches to learning is supported in part by a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, at www.chanzuckerberg.com. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.


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