With school closures extended, districts weigh options for making up lost time
Last Thursday, Gov. Kim Reynolds extended school closures across Iowa through the end of April.
That gives school districts around the state three options for the rest of the school year: no continuous learning, voluntary continuous learning, and required continuous learning.
With no continuous learning in place, teachers don’t assign any work, so schools would have to make up the time they lost. Work is given in both voluntary and required continuous learning, but the difference is whether assignments and attendance are encouraged, but optional, in the voluntary category, or whether they’re required.
The Cedar Rapids Community School District will be participating in voluntary continuous learning, for now, Superintendent Noreen Bush said Monday at Linn County’s bi-weekly coronavirus press conference at the Cedar Rapids Public Library.
“We want to provide as many opportunities as possible, but also keeping in mind, not penalizing children for this pandemic that we’re all facing,” Bush said.
Bush said they didn't choose to require continuous learning because of concerns about equity and access, making sure the district’s 16,000-plus students can get their lessons and work on them.
“If a student qualifies for special education services, if they have a 504 accommodation plan, or even English Language Learning instruction, we would be required to assure that all students have access to that and that we would be providing grades and feedback to students," Bush said.
Bush said under the voluntary option, schools will still provide ways for students, including those in the aforementioned groups, to keep up, including online and hard copies of coursework. They will also offer teleconferencing with teachers.
“It provides an opportunity for students to continue on their path without penalizing them for attendance requirements or grading requirements,” Bush said.
However, voluntary work doesn’t count toward the credit high school students need to graduate or advance to the next grade. Bush said they’ll evaluate how to allow students to earn that credit on both a broad and student-by-student basis.
“I think that what we’ll be looking at is, how are our kids doing up until the midterm, what additional learning opportunities might we be able to provide through the continuous learning option, and then making sure that we’re assuring that our kids are getting what they need so they can graduate on time,” Bush said.
That could look different for students enrolled in credit recovery, or who were in danger of failing a course, according to the superintendent.
“We can continue to provide required work so that they can assure their credits,” Bush added.
Dual-enrolled students, like students concurrently enrolled in a Cedar Rapids high school and Kirkwood Community College, will still have classes available online.
School districts have until April 10 to submit their plans to the Department of Education for approval, before schools can implement them beginning April 13.
Looking ahead to the next school year, Bush said they are exploring and asking the Department of Education about the potential to begin that year earlier than currently scheduled.
“That could we get a jumpstart to the school year next year to get that foundational learning of anything that was missed,” Bush explained.