Decoding the Statewide School Reopening Framework

July 16th, 2020

Category: News

On Wednesday, June 15, the State of Delaware announced guidance for reopening of schools for the 2020-21 academic year. Governor John Carney and Secretary of Education Susan Bunting in a press conference emphasized the importance of returning to in-person instruction, while balancing safety for students and the state.

The guidance builds on recommendations from three working groups comprised of a cross-section of education stakeholders including educators, parents, nonprofit and community leaders, and legislators, as well as a state survey of over 20,000 stakeholders, and feedback from the public. It was inspired by Opportunity Labs, a national think-tank behind the Return to School Roadmap, which provides evidence-based advice, resources and support at the intersection of public health and public education to affect a safe, efficient and equitable return to school.

The Rodel team listened in to each meeting of the three working groups and reviewed the guidance.

Here are our key takeaways:

Overview

  1. The guidance does:
    • Include recommendations for WHAT districts and charters SHOULD do now, before the school year, and when the school year starts.
    • Apply to districts and charter schools. Private schools are encouraged to follow. Minimum requirements for social distancing, mask-wearing, hand-washing and other basic precautions will apply to all schools.
    • Include planning recommendations for a number of topics within academics/equity, health/wellness, and operations (see below) for three different scenarios depending on the spread of COVID-19:
    • The guidance states “As of July 2020, Delaware is experiencing minimal to moderate community spread, and schools will likely reopen for the 2020-21 school year in a new environment, requiring innovative models for delivering instruction and supporting the social and emotional wellness of students, their families, and staff.”
    • Include Health and Safety Directives that are inclusive of updated public health information as of July 2020, and may be updated if conditions change. They include:
Highlights from Health and Safety Directives
  • -Face coverings: All staff and students in grades four-12 must wear cloth face coverings in the school building, except when doing so would inhibit the individual’s health. Face coverings should be worn by children in grades pre-k through 3rd grade.
  • -Social distancing: Students and staff should maintain the recommended distance of six feet or greater between individuals and must maintain a minimum of three feet apart with face coverings, including when seated at desks.
  • -Minimizing contact: Students should be kept in stable groups throughout the day with little to no mixing of classes.
  • -Health monitoring: Students, their families, and staff should complete a health assessment every morning before leaving for school; students and staff must stay home if they are exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19.
  • -Facilities: Schools must ensure enhanced cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces (stair railings, doorknobs, bathrooms, etc.), cleaning between every 15 minutes to two hours
  • -Buses: Capacity must be limited by the number of students that can be seated between three or more feet apart with face coverings; high-touch surfaces on buses (handrails, seat tops) must be cleaned between every bus run.
  1. The guidance does NOT:
    • Make final judgments for whether school building should be open, closed, or a hybrid. That decision will be made by Gov. Carney and health officials in August.
    • Tell districts and charters HOW to make these recommendations a reality, nor does it require anything of districts and charters.
  1. Additional context
    • The framework focuses on addressing unfinished learning, which the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) defines as, “any prerequisite knowledge or skills that students need for future work that they don’t have yet… unfinished learning…seems to inspire action rather than focusing on student deficits.” Read more about unfinished learning in our blog.
    • We know some Delaware districts are working with national partners to plan for reopening school. Many districts and charters are surveying parents and families, and many are putting together their own local working groups for reopening school. For more resource to help districts and charters operationalize these recommendations and plan for the fall, see our other recent blog.
    • In terms of funding, schools and districts suffered some cuts for the upcoming school year, but we know that the FY21 budget largely protects school funding. The general consensus is that schools will face additional expenses next year to meet additional health and safety requirements, as well as the social, emotional, and academic needs of students. Delaware districts, charters, DDOE, and the governor’s office received funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that must be spent by September 2022. Congress is actively debating further aid packages.

Planning Recommendations: Key issues and Recommendations:

Academics and Equity

Key issues surfaced during working group discussion largely echoed what we heard from our community survey, like the need for Wi-Fi/broadband, mental health supports, supports for English learner students and students with disabilities, low-income and homeless students and professional development and communication for educators and families. Some additional nuance included:

  • Needing a specific plan to serve low-income and homeless students
  • The importance of assessments to gauge where students are and what they need to learn
  • The reality that many important decisions and plans are needed in a short amount of time. A strong instructional start depends on clear communication, orientation, and professional development for educators and families to understand each scenario and plan
  • Staffing decisions, especially in a hybrid model: Which students/teachers/staff have to go into schools and which don’t? And how will schools staff remote and in-person classes? How will schedules need to change?
  • Timing/flexibility: Needed to meet certain requirements like completing IEPs and meeting professional development hours
  • Materials: The need to secure high-quality instructional learning materials, especially for hybrid and online learning.
Recommendations from this Framework Include:

Before School Begins Instruction:

  • –Create a Return to Instruction and Learning working group to revise the charter’s/district’s remote learning plan to incorporate feedback and input from stakeholders. Research additional programming to support students’ unfinished learning and best practices for remote and blended learning.
  • –Determine the plan for schedule shifts in case of a transition to blended or remote learning.
  • –Set an instruction vision/expectations that every student, including those with unique needs, will start the year with access to grade-level instruction and high-quality, standards-aligned instructional materials in every subject.
  • –Ensure plans are in place to monitor and assess students attendance, grading and credits, access and materials, postsecondary supports in case remote/hybrid learning is needed.
  • –Develop a streamlined assessment plan for understanding where students are when they return to school.
  • –Create a plan for intentional professional learning and participation in professional learning communities aligned to the instructional vision including sufficient time for educators to engage in intentional curriculum planning.
  • –Develop a robust communications plan to reach every family and student.

 

When school reopens:

  • –Activate the plans developed “before school opens.”
  • –Hybrid/closed: Integrate synchronous and asynchronous learning with best practices that promote student engagement and differentiation.
  • –Hybrid/closed: Activate targeted supports and support services for students who need additional support, including English learners and students with disabilities, including those with IEPs and 504 plans.
  • –Hybrid/closed: Build capacity around best practices and effective routines for blended and remote learning.
  • –Hybrid/closed: Activate communications plan including expectations for blended instruction that include grade-level goals, modes of assessment and feedback, and differentiated support for students.

Health and Wellness

Key issues surfaced during working group discussion included:

  • Increased trauma of students and adults
  • Challenges with mask usage as it relates to discipline, and special needs populations
  • Concerns about attendance and potential for absenteeism, while minimizing the spread of COVID-19
  • Balancing the positive effects of school athletics with concerns about safety, equity, and access
Recommendations from this Framework Include:

Before School Begins Instruction:

–Evaluate where possible the mental health readiness of staff utilizing questionnaires, surveys, and direct outreach. School and district mental health staff should be involved and integrated into developing the assessment tools that will be used.

–Develop and staff, where possible, a direct communication channel for district and school stakeholders to address mental health concerns resulting from COVID-19.

–Develop, where possible, site-specific communication resources, such as robo-calls, family letters, school/district websites, and family communication apps to help students and staff understand changes to operating procedures.

 

When school reopens:

–For in-person/hybrid: Establish ongoing reporting protocols for school staff to evaluate mental health status. (DDOE, the Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families, and Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health to provide sample reporting protocols.)

–For all scenarios: Activate direct communication channel for district stakeholders to address mental health concern.

Operations

Key issues surfaced during discussion include:

  • Staffing: Schools will face the reality that educators and students will not feel comfortable returning to school
  • Transportation: Social distancing requirements reduce bus capacity significantly, and the workforce is already understaffed and generally older.
  • Regulatory flexibility and guidance: schools will need more flexibility for seat time, purchasing, hiring (expecting staff shortages), teacher roles, attendance, and assessments
  • Adequate and flexible funding to cover additional expenses and maximize existing resources
  • Technology: The need for universal broadband and support services for educators and families
Recommendations from this Framework Include:

Before School Begins Instruction:

–Support schools in conducting staff and student assessment outreach to understand who is coming back.

–Where possible, and in partnership with local labor units, identify and modify staff positions that would enable high-risk staff to provide remote service.

–Engage school leaders in a budgeting exercise to help them plan for changing enrollment patterns, new staffing needs, and resource constraints or additional dollars.

–Work with the DDOE to understand regulatory flexibility for attendance policies for staff and students, hiring, purchasing, teacher credentialing, and class size.

–Conduct a family survey to understand how many families might be willing to drive their children to and from school.

–Inventory buses. Address questions, such as how many drivers will be returning?

–Identify a device and or general technology support lead for each school.

–Develop a technology support plan for families.

–Organize and centralize online resources that were created, published, or distributed by teachers and others during the closure period.

When school reopens:

–For hybrid/remote: Define logistical expectations, including attendance expectations and time on schooling by grade level for students and teachers.

–For hybrid/remote: Ensure the Unit Count process is defined (i.e. how to track attendance in the remote environment, how to administer IEP evaluations, etc.).

–For in person/hybrid: Create a plan for getting students home safely if they are not allowed to board the vehicle because of illness.

–For in person/hybrid: Establish protocols for parent/guardian pick-up and drop-off to account for additional vehicles on school grounds. For all: Provide training and support for teachers to adapt remote learning skills for the classroom.

–For all: Establish a network of peer teachers and staff to support technology and instructional technology.

Author:
Neil Kirschling

nkirschling@rodelde.org

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