Since schools closed statewide more than a month ago, readers have asked us many questions about what’s next. This is what we can tell you up to this point. Want to know more? Ask a question at the bottom of this post and get weekly updates straight to your inbox through our newsletter.
How will this year’s closure affect next year’s school calendar? Could the next school year be longer to make up for all of this chaos?
Short answer: We don’t know yet.
Long answer: Education officials want to reopen buildings in the fall, but schools will likely look very different.
During a webinar with the League of Education Voters on Thursday, state schools chief Chris Reykdal said they are still developing guidance for districts, which will then make their own calls about the fall.
“Nobody thinks we’re coming back in anything that doesn’t still look like social distancing,” Reykdal said.
Some possibilities include alternating A/B schedules that have fewer students in the building at a time. Another possibility would be converting high schools into elementary or middle schools because younger students do not learn as well at a distance. High school students would continue with online learning.
Reykdal said the governor’s office hoped to be able to issue guidance in early June for a September start.
Decisions depend on many factors, including transmission rates, immunity rates, tracing who people who have the virus have come into contact with, and what scientists learn about the virus over time.
Immunologists say people will remain at risk until most are immune to the virus either because they’ve contracted it themselves and recovered or because there is a vaccine. (Read more about the science behind the safety of reopening schools here.)
Will high school seniors still graduate?
Yes. Districts must try to provide students with the ability to earn credit — but if they can’t, they can apply for a new state waiver. Under the waiver, everyone who would have ordinarily been able to graduate this spring with the required 24 credits will still graduate even if they have fewer than that. The State Board of Education has given school districts the ability to waive credits for this year on a case-by-case basis. Individual school districts will make decisions about whether they will host graduation ceremonies. Read more here.
Will my child advance to the next grade? How will students learn all of the material they missed at the end of this year?
Yes, children will advance to the next grade, though it is unclear how this closure will affect the number of credits high school students will receive. We also don’t know exactly how districts will make up for the lessons that students might have missed because of the coronavirus school closures.
The state has mandated that school districts continue to provide instruction. What that looks like varies widely. Some districts have continued with online learning almost from the beginning of the closures. Others are distributing paper learning packets because not all students have access to adequate technology or internet connectivity.
Read about the variety of situations and what some districts are trying to do about the inequities here.
What about grades?
Chris Reykdal, head of OSPI, issued a new grading policy framework on Wednesday. High school students will receive letter grades for the rest of this semester but school districts cannot fail any student.
“Our policy is, ‘do no harm,’” said Reykdal during a Zoom conference with reporters. “Students won’t move backward … every student will have a chance to make progress.”
In Seattle’s public high schools, students will receive either A’s or incompletes so that the challenges of distance education will not affect their GPAs. The final decisions are up to each district.
Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib is asking higher education institutions to grade generously and consistently so students can maintain scholarships, financial aid and other support. Read more here.
What exactly is being required of teachers? Why does that vary by district?
In general, teachers are asked to be in contact with students and families. OSPI is recommending teachers provide as much of a routine and schedule as possible while also being flexible to account for varying access to resources like laptops or the internet.
“Each school district will make many local decisions that are unique to their student and educator populations and available resources,” reads the OSPI guidance for continuous learning.
Because every district serves different students and has different amounts of resources, the implementation of this general guidance varies widely. Each school district has its own union chapter, too, which does its own bargaining. How the unions affect local continuous learning policies varies by district.
According to the Washington Education Association’s website, “It is not up to individual educators to solve this — districts should be working with our locals to provide systemic solutions to meet the needs of all students in the best way we can with these unprecedented circumstances.”
OSPI emphasizes that schools should be communicating with all families, remaining flexible, and prioritizing meeting families’ basic needs over instruction. In its guidance to educators, the agency wrote, “Learning [should be] being for learning’s sake, without the expectation to cover an entire content or subject area.” It recommends limiting students’ daily academic commitment to 45 minutes for kindergartners and first graders up to a maximum of three hours per day for high school students.
Why do so many of your answers boil down to “it depends on the district?”
In most states, including Washington, school districts control education — within certain laws and parameters. That means decisions about academics, schedules, contracts and other aspects of education are controlled by a local governing body. The idea is that what works in dense, urban Seattle Public Schools with 113 schools may not be applicable in the broad expanse of Methow Valley School District and its four different school sites. District oversight is why schools made different decisions about closure before the statewide mandate. But decisions about wider public health issues, like statewide closures because of the coronavirus, fall under the governor’s purview.