FAQ: COVID-19 and Schools
How are school systems communicating with stakeholders regarding COVID-19?
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:
- Coronavirus FAQs,
- Tips for talking to children about Coronavirus,
- Distance Learning Plan
- Online learning resources to support learning from home, and
- Lesson plan on preventing communicable diseases.
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.
How are school systems planning for School Year 2020-2021 and reopening school buildings?
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:
- Johns Hopkins University created an interactive tracker that curates school reopening plans by state.
- The Collaborative for Student Success and Center for Reinventing Public Education(CRPE) published a district planning tool and rubric for reopening plans designed for local education officials.
- The American Enterprise Institute’s Blueprint for Back to School, provides a framework to support state policymakers, education and community leaders, and federal officials in planning for reopening. The blueprint offers considerations in six key areas of work: school operations, whole child supports, school personnel, academics, distance learning, and other general considerations.
- Chiefs for Change has published several planning resources designed for district leaders, including the “School Reopening Workbook: A Tool for School Districts,” a baseline 100-day plan to inform operational decisions about school reopening, and a “Day in the Life” simulation tool to help schools pressure test their reopening plans.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics issued COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry to support education, public health, local leadership, and pediatricians collaborating with schools in creating policies for school re-entry that foster the overall health and are based on available evidence.
- CASEL and and 40 expert partners released a social and emotional learning roadmap for reopening schools centered on student well-being and mental health, trauma-responsive learning environments, restorative practices, and social and emotional competency development.
- A coalition of education research organizations working together in response to COVID-19, including Digital Promise, published Building Blocks for Equitable, Remote Learning, a synthesis of evidence-based best practices related to equitable remote and hybrid teaching and learning.
- Getting Smart offers How to Reopen Schools: A 10-Point Plan Putting Equity at the Center. Their plan calls for innovative approaches that consider the re-entry needs of students of color and students with disabilities.
How do we plan for online learning while ensuring equity?
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:
- State agencies across the U.S. have published remote learning guidance for leaders and educators, which has been curated in an interactive map by the MIT Teaching Systems Lab.
- TNTP has published a comprehensive guide to Shifting to At-Home Learning with guidance for district and school administrators, teachers, families and caretakers, and students through three phases of implementation.
- The Learning Council has developed a questionnaire, Going Virtual Overnight: 4 Questions for Administrators to Ask, to help leaders quickly analyze their options when faced with the decision to move online quickly.
- CoSN offers guidance in Preparing to Take Schools Online, including considerations for technology, infrastructure, and teacher and student readiness and preparation.
- The American Federation of Teachers’ Checklist for Distance Learning Questions You Should Ask Now includes specific questions districts must ask themselves regarding how English language learners and students with disabilities will be supported.
- NYU Metro Center provides Guidance on Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Remote Education, with advice and resources for teachers, families, and school leaders.
How can schools and districts support teachers in the transition to online teaching?
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:
- San Antonio Independent School District’s Digital Learning Playground provides curricula for grades PreK to 12, designed for ease of access by students and parents.
- East Noble School Corporation’s eLearning Guidance offers examples of what instruction, modeling, independent practice, assessment, and grading could look like in an online environment.
- The Colorado Department of Education’s Resources for Learning at Home includes learning tools and resources, “best practices” for educators and families, and reminders about student data privacy.
- Juab School District’s eLearning Plan offers a sample course and weekly plans, templates for messages to parents, lists of tools and resources aligned to student and teacher needs, and solutions to common barriers.
- Compton Unified School District’s Distance Learning Resources for Educators page provides access to a technical support chat, professional development schedules, and lesson resources. Their main Distance Learning page also includes resources for students and families.
- Louden County Public Schools’ Continuity of Education page includes learning resources for all grade levels, information on grading, English Learner and Special Education resources, and mental health and wellness resources.
What if students don’t have devices or reliable internet access at home?
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.
How can we ensure the needs of students receiving special education services are met?
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.
- The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights has issued guidance for preventing discrimination and ensuring accessibility in a Fact Sheet and short webinar on Online Education and Website Accessibility.
- Understood.org has also provided Legal FAQs on Coronavirus, School Closings, and Special Education, and the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools has provided a useful resource on COVID-19 and Students with Disabilities, which outlines key considerations and lessons learned from previous public health crises.
- The National Center for Learning Disabilities has provided two printable resources with actions for parents and educators to support students with disabilities that can be useful as part of school leaders’ communications with the community.
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:
- The Center for Online Learning and Students with Disabilities offers numerous resources including tools for evaluating the accessibility of curriculum and tools.
- The State Education Technology Directors Association (SETDA) has curated resources from the National AEM Center and CAST for supporting students with IEPs during eLearning Days and creating accessible materials.
- The National Center on Disability and Access to Education provides “cheat sheets” for creating accessible content in popular tools such as Microsoft Office and YouTube and institutional tips for addressing web accessibility.
- Mapping Access provides suggestions for making face-to-face instructional techniques accessible online and ways to prepare for online teaching.
What tools and resources can support virtual learning?
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.
In addition to these resources from Digital Promise, educators may find these resources from industry leaders useful:
- Strategies and resources for teaching online, curated by a coalition of education organizations, at Learning Keeps Going,
- Resources for teachers and parents at WideOpenSchool, curated by Common Sense, which includes ideas and resources for daily schedules, emotional wellbeing, field trips, and academics.
- Online learning product resources, and services at Tech For Learners
How can I ensure that online learning practices are compliant with student privacy requirements?
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:
- Review all applicable policies with staff and provide links to district recommended resources that have been vetted for educational purposes and data privacy, such as this example from Green Bay Area Public Schools.
- If teachers can independently choose resources for students, provide resources to guide their decision making. Teachers can check the Student Data Privacy Consortium’s registry to see if other school districts around the country are using the resource, and what the company has agreed to with school districts. They can also review Common Sense’s Privacy Evaluations to see product ratings, and check to see if a company has signed the Future of Privacy Forum’s Student Privacy Pledge.
- Direct teachers to libraries of vetted resources. All resources in the Digital Promise Online Learning Resources conform to high standards for student data privacy, either as signatories the Student Privacy Pledge or because they do not collect student personally identifiable information.
- Provide a user-friendly list of best practices. The Privacy Technical Assistance Center’s Model Terms guidelines can be a helpful resource for this. Include reminders to check Terms of Service for age requirements, and guidance against using public WiFI networks (which can be easily compromised) and posting video/photos of students online.
- Set clear guidelines for the use of video conferencing tools. Refer to COSN’s guidance for Video Conferencing Tools in the Age of Remote Learning: Privacy Considerations for New Technologies.
How can we support educators’ professional and personal well-being during this time?
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.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided resources for Managing Anxiety and Stress.
- RULER from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence offers tips for Managing Anxiety Around COVID-19.
- The National Association of School Psychologists has published Talking to Children About COIVD-19 (Coronavirus): A Parent Resource.
- Teaching Tolerance offers recommendations from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network for a Trauma-Informed Approach to Teaching Through Coronavirus.
- Child Trends has published guidance, recommendations, and resources for educators, parents, children, and their communities at Resources for Supporting Children’s Emotional Well-being during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
How can we educate our students about COVID-19?
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:
- Students can develop subject area knowledge in science and math through resources such as Our World in Data’s Coronavirus Disease Research and Statistics page and this video on Exponential Growth and Epidemics.
- Discovery Education launched a new Viruses and Outbreaks Channel within the Discovery Education Experience, which they are offering free resources to schools who are experiencing closures.
- The New York Academy of Sciences is sponsoring a challenge on Combating COVID-19. In the challenge, students develop technology-based solutions to slow the spread of COVID-19. The challenge begins on March 25, and winners will be announced in June.
- Education Week Teacher provides ideas to teachers across content areas with Teaching About Coronavirus: Lesson Plans for Science, Math, and Media Literacy.
- National Board Certified teacher Angela Sheffield shares the strategy she’s using to talk to her students and curb their panic about COVID-19. The California Teachers Association provides additional resources for talking to students about the novel coronavirus.
- The Association for Media Literacy provides play-by-play insight into one classroom’s multi-week lesson on Integrating Media Literacy into Gr10 English through Multi-Media Inquiry.
- The Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility has provided a lesson addressing the bias and discrimination associated with COVID-ID in their lesson Coronavirus: Fostering Empathy in an Interconnected World.
- Teaching Tolerance has provided a set of resources on Speaking Up Against Racism Around the New Coronavirus.
- Facing History and Ourselves is offering Support for Teachers During the COVID-19 Outbreak including teaching resources on democracy and civic engagement, professional development, and an online community.
I’m a school partner. What’s the best way to support right now?
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.
I’m a parent. What resources are there to help me as I provide home-based learning?
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.