Kansas task force issues guidelines for K-12 remote education plans, stresses learning won’t stop with building closures
Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson stressed Thursday that Kansas students will continue to receive instruction this spring, after Gov. Laura Kelly ordered all school buildings closed for the rest of the academic year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a teleconference with media, Watson and other education officials outlined Kansas State Department of Education guidelines for school districts to use when creating a continuous learning program. The guidelines, which were released on Thursday, were created by a task force of educators across the state.
The guidelines include allowing small groups of students to meet in person for lessons that are not easily conducted through virtual education avenues, Watson said. They allow schools to host in-person activities that include less than 10 people who are separated by at least six feet. Those rules are in line with recommendations from health officials to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
“I want to be crystal clear: We did not shut schools down in Kansas,” Watson said. “We are limiting activity in schools in Kansas.”
On Tuesday, Kelly issued an executive order closing Kansas’ public and private K-12 schools for the rest of the spring semester. The order came after the state’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases doubled in two days, reaching at least 18 on Tuesday, including one COVID-19-related death in Wyandotte County the previous week. As of Thursday afternoon, Kansas had reported at least 34 confirmed cases of the virus, although officials had started to limit testing in parts of the state because of the widespread nature of the virus and a lack of tests.
In light of the governor’s order, each school district will need to create a continuous learning plan that suits its student population needs, said Cindy Couchman, assistant superintendent of the Buhler school district and member of the task force.
“Every school district is very unique in their student population and very unique in the resources that are available,” she said. “Each school’s plan is going to look slightly different. The purpose of this guidance document is to provide a framework only.”
While many schools may use online learning in their plans, Dyane Smokorowski, a technology teacher in the Andover school district, said many families may not have reliable access to the internet. She said schools may also need to utilize education packets to can be sent to students to be completed at home.
Smokorowski said the state’s guidelines also make sure students are not getting too much device screen time during their at-home learning periods.
“We strongly believe continuous learning is not hours of screen time for teachers, parents or students,” she said. “Continuous learning is learning anytime, anywhere. … This is not sitting on a device all day long.”
The guidelines suggest most students should have a limited amount of at-home learning time. They show the maximum student commitment to learning each day should be 30 minutes for pre-kindergarten, 45 minutes for students in kindergarten and first grade, 60 minutes for students in second and third grade, 90 minutes for students in fourth and fifth grade, and 30 minutes per teacher with a maximum of 3 hours total for students in sixth grade and up.
Additionally, the guidelines suggest that teachers have weekly assignments, projects, and video check-ins to assess their students’ learning. The full 76-page document is posted on the home page of the KSDE website, ksde.org.
Watson said each school district must have a state-approved plan in place by April 15. He said the state is requesting school districts to submit their plans to the state at least a week prior to the deadline, in order to give KSDE a chance to review it and make sure it is adequate and does not miss the deadline.
Julie Boyle, spokeswoman for the Lawrence school district, said in a news release earlier this week that the school district is currently working to implement a continuous learning plan for students that will begin on March 30.
In light of the announced guidelines, the Kansas chapter of the National Education Association, a large teachers union in the state, said in a news release that teachers are prepared to take on the new challenge. The organization thanked the educators who worked on the task force to create the guidelines.
“I’m not sure when I’ve been more proud of my colleagues, the teachers of Kansas who refuse to allow student-learning to suffer,” Mark Farr, President of Kansas NEA, said in the news release. “I want every teacher and student to know that we are working to keep everyone safe and learning.”