Special Report
School & District Management

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

By Denisa R. Superville — June 24, 2020 2 min read
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As district leaders draft their reopening plans for the 2020-21 school year, they can’t lose sight of the students who will not return to school and those who won’t be able to access traditional courses.

They may be students with underlying health conditions that put them at risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19, or they may live with family members who are at risk. They may be students who are homebound because of severe physical disabilities. Or they may be students whose parents are just not willing to send them to school until there is a vaccine or effective treatment for the virus.

Similarly, there are special-needs students who may require one-on-one services that are best delivered in a home setting.

Here are some alternative options:

Independent study

Districts can provide opportunities for students to work at their own pace, with assignments tailored to their academic needs.

Materials, which should be aligned to state standards, should be available in a variety of formats: printed packets, online assignments, and video lessons, according to the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

Students should also have access to teachers for ongoing support and feedback. And because those students will be away from school for the semester or longer—especially if their peers are back in class—districts must create opportunities for them to engage with classmates.

BRIC ARCHIVE

District and school leaders are confronting difficult, high-stakes decisions as they plan for how to reopen schools amid a global pandemic. Through eight installments, Education Week journalists explore the big challenges education leaders must address, including running a socially distanced school, rethinking how to get students to and from school, and making up for learning losses. We present a broad spectrum of options endorsed by public health officials, explain strategies that some districts will adopt, and provide estimated costs.

Part 1: The Socially Distanced School Day
Part 2: Scheduling the COVID-19 School Year

For students who are homebound, the districts will have to collaborate with families to figure out the best times for teachers to work with them.

Districts must also create and conduct assessments to track students’ progress and ensure that they have technical support to complete assignments.

Small group instruction

Some students thrived in the remote learning environment while others struggled academically.

Small group sessions, either on or off campus, are a good way for districts to tailor intensive academic supports for students who need help to get back on track.

Both staff and students in these small group sessions will follow public health guidelines and safety protocols.

Virtual academies

Virtual schools operated and staffed by local districts are an option for districts that experience high teacher and student opt-out rates when in-person instruction resumes.

Expecting that a significant number of parents may not want to send their children back to school, Guilford County Public Schools in Greensboro, N.C., has asked the state’s permission to open two virtual academies, with each school serving about 2,000 students.

The district does not yet know whether it will set up those academies, but it’s an option that’s on the table that will allow it to retain students (whose families could decide to enroll in other online schools) and keep the funding tied to those students’ enrollment.

Though 96 percent of Guilford County’s staff indicated in a recent survey that they planned to return when schools reopen, Superintendent Sharon Contreras expects classes in the virtual schools to be taught by district teachers for whom face-to-face instruction might be too risky.

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

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