It is critical that schools maintain ongoing accurate and reliable communication with their communities as situations surrounding COVID-19 develop.
The Policy Innovators Network has curated Rapid Response Resources to support school and district preparedness.
Consider a comprehensive response like that of Highline Public Schools, located near Seattle, Washington. Their online response is grounded in equity, taking into account implications for the entire school community (from students to educators to custodians), and includes:
Communication to stakeholders should support families in their transition to home-based learning. For example, Menlo Park City School District’s Parent Guide to Distance Learning includes “Tips for Distance Learning in Your Home.” Also consider non-web-based options, such as Lynwood Unified School District’s telephone Support Hotline. Students, staff, and families calling the support line can ask questions and receive immediate access to school counselors and social workers for mental health support.
For more examples, see the Center on Reinventing Public Educations’ database of District Responses to COVID-19.
As some cities and states begin lifting restrictions, schools are making decisions about whether and how schools might reopen this fall. Reopening plans will vary based on the needs of the school and community, and the primary metrics for reopening must be driven by local health officials. Here are some resources that school leaders may find useful in planning:
Technology affords many school systems the ability for students to keep learning, even when schools are closed. By moving learning online during periods of extended closure, schools can minimize lost instructional time.
However, online learning presents significant equity challenges. Before implementing online learning during an extended closure, districts must ensure equitable access to that learning for all students, including those without home internet access or devices and those receiving accommodations in accordance with an IEP. In order to ensure equity, plan your online learning program around the students with the least access and highest needs, whether that means working with your school IT team and community partners to provide technology to those who need it, or tailoring the online learning tools and activities you use to ensure all students have access.
Digital Promise and The Education Trust partnered to create a guide with 10 Questions for Equity Advocates to Ask About Distance Learning. The guide, based on what has been learned from state and district actions so far, outlines ten questions, their associated challenges, and ideas to consider. In addition to this guide, the following resources can support schools in planning for equity in online learning:
On their Checklist for Distance Learning Questions You Should Ask Now, the American Federation of Teachers draws attention to the need for teacher preparation and training. Educators also know their students well and should be consulted during planning.
Schools can support teachers by providing guidance on how to design quality online instruction, as well as resources to support their transition to a digital learning environment. For example, Edsurge offers Advice for Newly Remote Instructors, and TNTP’s Resources for Learning at Home When Schools Close offers guidance on choosing home learning resources, using the materials at home, and communicating with families.
Some districts, such as DC Public Schools, provided an Instructional Continuity Plan with resources for students, teachers and families. Additional examples of instructional continuity plans and resources include:
One of the most significant challenges schools face during an extended closure is the Digital Learning Gap—specifically, access. Outside of school, not all learners have daily access to high-speed internet and a mobile device for learning. Extended closures pose the risk of students falling behind. With inequitable access to online learning, that has the potential to be exacerbated for students in rural and lower-income households.
When designing online learning content, East Noble School Corporation’s eLearning Guidance recommends that if lesson content is reliant on the internet, that it be clearly noted in the instructions, along with a statement that allows students additional time or ways to access the content, such as print materials.
To support students with limited home access, schools can take steps to provide those students with the tools they need, including loaning devices and hotspots to students, as some schools in Washington state have done. Districts can also look to school districts with established accessibility programs, such as Lindsay Unified School District and Morris School District.
Schools can also provide lower-income households with affordable options for connectivity. Many internet providers are offering plans that offer low or no cost service to families in need. EveryoneOn provides a database of low-cost internet options searchable by zip code.
Schools are also thinking creatively about local partnerships. For example, L.A. Unified has partnered with public broadcasting channels to prepare instructional content for varying ages that will be aired on three channels in the event of school closure. This ensures that students without internet access, nearly a quarter of families in LAUSD, can continue to access instructional content. This is in addition to the online accounts many students have for receiving and submitting assignments.
If a school closes and decides to offer virtual instruction for all students, they must have a plan for providing special education services. There are many details for schools to work through, and many potential legal ramifications.
When offering virtual learning opportunities, it is critical that the web-based content provided is universally accessible. This means ensuring that the virtual learning experiences schools are providing are perceivable, operable, and understandable by all learners, as outlined in the WCAG Guidelines. For example, text alternatives must accompany non-text content, i.e. alt-text for images and transcripts for videos. These practices, while designed as an accommodation, are truly beneficial to all learners. Many technology companies have built accessibility features into their products. The following resources provide supports to educators in creating their own accessible content:
There is no shortage of tools and resources that can be used to support home-based learning. Video conferencing platforms, learning management systems, tools for collaboration, and digital content and curriculum can all help teachers continue to create Powerful Learning experiences for their students. Additionally, many technology companies have responded by making premium features available at no cost to impacted schools. These tools offer options for synchronous learning, so that teachers can meet in real-time with their classes, as well as asynchronous learning, so that students can learn when they have access to technology, bandwidth, appropriate workspace, and time.
Digital Promise has launched three useful libraries to support virtual learning. There is an Online Learning Tools library for educators, which can be filtered by type, grade, and subject. All of the included resources are free and meet student privacy criteria. A library of Resources for Supporting Learners with Disabilities is also available, containing special education resources and edtech products searchable by grade level, IDEA Disability categories, and cost. To help educators continue their professional learning during this time of social distancing, a library of micro-credentials has been curated, all of which can be earned outside of the classroom or do not require student work or face-to-face interaction with others. Additionally, Digital Promise has partnered with KERIS to publish Best Practices in Online Learning in COVID-19, a collection of strategies from educators in the U.S. and Korea.
In addition to these resources from Digital Promise, educators may find these resources from industry leaders useful:
As more schools turn to online learning as part of a learning continuity plan, it is more important than ever to comply with the laws that govern student data privacy. CooleyEd reports that key privacy requirements, such as FERPA and COPPA have remained unchanged. FERPA governs how companies may handle students’ personally identifiable information (see also the U.S. Department of Education’s guidance around FERPA and Virtual Learning); COPPA governs data collection for children under the age of 13. Individual states also have rules governing student privacy, such as California’s SOPPIA. As of March 25, 2020, there are no waivers or modifications in place due to COVID-19.
School leaders can help ensure compliance by following these tips:
It’s important to acknowledge that education is a particularly purpose-driven profession, and teachers will need support for both their professional and personal well-being as they grapple with shifts in their routines, redesign learning materials to work virtually, and experience loss of social interaction with colleagues and students. Administrators should strive to ensure that social distancing does not become professional isolation for their staff and for themselves.
Sea Change Mentoring has published Ten Strategies for Educators’ Wellbeing: A Handbook for Schools During the COVID-19 Outbreak. Their handbook discusses the importance of connecting through online communities and virtual “happy hours.” School administrators can also adopt this practice by creating virtual teachers’ lounge hours, office hours with administration, and professional learning networks within the school and district. Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts Meet are all useful tools for connecting face-to-face virtually.
Administrators must also understand that the personal stress and anxiety that this transition can cause not only for educators, but for the entire community. The following resources can be useful in designing supports and communicating with stakeholders.
Regardless of whether or not their specific community has been impacted, students around the country are asking questions about COVID-19’s impacts, and are seeking to sort out fact from fiction. Teachers are using this opportunity to teach about the science of pandemics, media literacy, and discrimination. Here are a few ideas and resources educators can use as a starting point in teaching about COVID-19:
If you are a partner, such as an education technology company, it’s important to recognize the myriad of challenges schools are facing right now. Now is not the time to pitch a product to a new school district, as Highline School District’s Superintendent Susan Enfield told EdWeek. In a recent webinar, EdWeek Market Brief’s reporting staff shared what they’ve learned from district leaders and company officials. One key takeaway: focus on your existing relationships. Check in with them, ask what they need, and focus on being a thought partner rather than a solution. Demonstrating your sincere compassion and support is critical.
The full webinar, What Do School Districts Want—and Not Want—From Vendors During the Coronavirus Crisis?, is available on demand via EdWeek Market Brief.
School closures due to COVID-19 have put some parents in the unexpected role of homeschool teacher. To help ease the transition, Digital Promise has curated research-based strategies for Powerful Home-Based Learning. These strategies can supplement lessons and resources you received from your schools, and can also be used as stand-alone learning experiences. The resources include technology based and low/no tech strategies in reading, math, and literacy that account for both academic and social-emotional learning.
Parents can also use the Digital Promise Online Learning Resource library to identify resources to use as a part of their home based learning plans. The resources can be filtered by type, grade, and subject. All are free, and parents can trust that they meet a high bar for student privacy.