TOPEKA — Members of the Continuous Learning Task Force recently announced school buildings may be closed across the state, but learning can happen anytime and anywhere. The task force members delivered their message on Thursday, March 19.
Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson earlier this week convened the task force to provide guidance on how schools can implement Continuous Learning. Those recommendations were presented to Watson on Wednesday, March 18 and are now available on online by visiting https://sites.google.com/ksde.org/kansascontinuouslearning2020/home.
“I want to thank the task force for their guidance,” Watson said. “These top-notch educators have provided Kansas with a valuable resource, and their hard work will benefit us all as we move forward.”
Gov. Laura Kelly also thanked members of the Continuous Learning Task Force.
“I am proud of the response of our Kansas teachers and administrators during this difficult time,” Kelly said. “The Continuous Learning Task Force has worked diligently over the past several days and has crafted comprehensive guidance that will ensure learning continues for all Kansas students. I would like to thank each member for their dedication to Kansas educators, administrators, students and parents.”
Dr. Watson and members of the task force hosted a virtual news briefing for media outlets at 10 a.m. Thursday, March 19. A recording of the briefing can be accessed at https://mediastream.ksde.org/Media/Main/ZoomPressConf.mp4.
Below are some questions that Kansans may have:
• What is Continuous Learning?
Just as the name implies, this will allow Kansas students to continue learning despite school buildings being closed for the rest of the year. Instructional models may include blending of nontechnology; face-to-face, small-group learning sessions; and virtual platforms. Plans will vary from school to school and district to district. Boards and districts will have to make local decisions that are unique to their student population, staff and resources. Districts should develop and implement Continuous Learning plans in partnership with families, staff members and local boards of education, and follow the guidance of local health departments and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The task force is recommending that districts focus on essential learning for students and use materials, resources and platforms that already are in place.
• How will students be held accountable for learning, and what is the expected time for students to spend learning each day?
Students will have weekly assignments, projects and, possibly, video check-ins. The recommended guidelines for maximum student commitment each day are as follows:
o Pre-K: 30 minutes.
o K-1: 45 minutes
o Grades 2-3: 60 minutes.
o Grades 4-5: 90 minutes.
o Grades 6-12: 30 minutes per teacher for a maximum of three hours per day.
These guidelines are meant for any delivery model – packets, online, hybrid, etc.
• How will schools assist students who don’t have online access or technology?
Internet access will be an issue for many families in Kansas, and educators and students may lack the resources to connect remotely. Several companies have announced offers of free access to internet during this time. Don’t be afraid to reach out to local internet service providers to see what options are available. Some students will be able to put pencil to paper and do school through at-home projects, etc. Other students may be able to attend school for small-group learning sessions, if deemed safe to do so by county and state health officials. These things will look different from school to school and district to district. Each will have to determine what best suits its community.
• How will schools provide for at-risk students, those who have special needs and those who have Individual Education Plans (IEPs).
KSDE special education staff members and special education professionals from various districts provided guidance to the task force in these areas. KSDE’s Special Education and Title Services team has put out guidance to special education directors. Districts’ special education directors and KSDE guidance should be consulted when making decisions regarding students with IEPs. IEPs may not be universally modified.
Graduation and other school activities/sports
• What about graduation requirements?
The Kansas State Board of Education requires 21 credits to graduate. Local boards have the authority to require that students earn more than 21 credits to graduate. However, during this time, districts that require more credits than the state requirement may elect to revert to the 21-credit-hour threshold that the State Board of Education established.
• What about seniors? What about their graduations and proms?
We understand this is a very difficult time for students – especially seniors. However, based on current KDHE guidance, events with more than 10 participants congregating in one area will need to be postponed. The Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) has issued guidance for spring sports.
Food and food security
• Will students have access to meals?
Yes. School districts and community organizations will be able to serve meals through USDA Summer Meals Programs. More than 220 schools - both public and private - are currently serving or making plans to serve meals due to the unanticipated school closures.
• Any other guidance you can give about serving meals?
Yes. A few things:
o Due to COVID-19, the Kansas State Department of Education is offering the flexibility to the milk requirements in Kansas. During this national emergency, the cow’s milk you can purchase (e.g. skim, 1%, 2%, whole) may be used to fulfill the milk requirements for any age group within the Child & Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Please document when these substitutions are made. This flexibility does not cover substituting non-dairy beverages that don’t meet the standards of cow’s milk.
o If you determine that your current plan for serving meals isn’t meeting the needs of the community and are considering using a survey to evaluate the effectiveness of the current plan, contact Cheryl Johnson, KSDE’s Child Nutrition and Wellness director. Don’t send out a survey without contacting KSDE, as federal child nutrition programs are required to follow very specific guidelines regarding communicating to families and participant confidentiality.
• Will the state still require districts to administer state assessments?
The Kansas State Department of Education does not expect schools to administer state assessments when schools are closed. Even though the Kansas state assessments are administered online, the tests can’t be given to students in a remote location. Once students return to school, a decision will be made regarding extending the assessment window or waiving this year’s assessments.
Other general questions:
• Will hourly school personnel still be paid during this time?
• That is a local decision, but schools that want to apply for a waiver of the 1,116-school-hour requirement will be required to pay hourly personnel.
• Will the school hour requirement be waived for districts?
Districts may submit a waiver request to KSDE. To be approved, districts must submit a plan to KSDE for continuous learning and agree to continue paying hourly staff according to their current pay schedule. KSDE will provide the necessary documentation for districts to complete.
• How can schools assist in efforts to keep children from congregating in community spaces and keep them sheltered in their own homes?
Keeping students engaged in learning with the Continuous Learning plan will be one way. Parents/guardians must play a lead role in this.