The inevitable spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, to the United States has prompted state leaders to close schools, leaving at least half of all U.S. students in K-12 schools on a forced break for two weeks–or longer, as many states and cities have extended closures.
The Centers for Disease Control has issued guidance and recommendations for school leaders as confirmed cases of coronavirus spread across the nation, and has noted that schools should plan for the possibility of extended closures and should put plans in place to disrupt learning as little as possible.
Related content: eSchool News Coronavirus Update Resource
Suddenly, social media and networking platforms offered a flurry of resource-sharing, with educators posting ideas for everything from at-home math activities to fun STEM and art projects designed to keep children engaged while practicing social distancing. Districts scurried to assess students’ ability to learn at home, lending devices or mobile hotspots–or both–to students in need.
“Schools everywhere are pivoting in real time to create distance learning opportunities and to provide students, families and caregivers the emotional and learning resources they need to keep kids engaged. Teachers across the country are working tirelessly to ensure that students continue to learn and feel connected and safe in the midst of turbulence and uncertainty,” says Talia Milgrom-Elcott, founder and executive director of 100Kin10, an organization that promotes the recruitment and retention of highly-qualified STEM teachers. “As parents around the world do their best to foster learning and wellbeing for their children, we all have a newfound appreciation for the pivotal role teachers play. They are master educators, peace-makers, structure-providers, and inspiration-givers. Let’s carry that insight forward into our post-COVID-19 world, remembering that students only thrive when teachers thrive and giving teachers the salaries, support, and structures they need and deserve.”
The majority of states and districts have already taken action. Among the earliest, Dr. Michelle Reid, superintendent of the Northshore School District in Washington, announced the decision to close all school sites beginning March 5 as district leaders monitor the situation and health department recommendations.
The district’s instructional staff worked with students and teachers to make sure they are able to use the district’s online learning platform, and the district has set up a site with classroom-to-cloud information to help students and parents/guardians. The district is loaning devices and internet hotspots to students without home access.
In Kansas, Gov. Laura Kelly closed K-12 school buildings for the rest of the year and convened a task force dedicated to creating plans for continuous learning.
The Florida Department of Education closed schools until at least April 15 and announced that all state testing, Florida Standards Assessments, end-of-course exams, and other state-mandated examinations are canceled.
The move to close schools for an undetermined period of time is unprecedented in recent decades, has major implications for education policy, and also sheds light on the persistent digital divide.
The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition urged the FCC to take a number of steps to increase home internet access for students, including authorizing emergency funding for hotspot lending programs.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, and schools and libraries close across the country, the need to ensure everyone has affordable broadband at home becomes an urgent national priority. Unfortunately, approximately one-quarter of people, including 7 million students, do not have access to broadband service at home,’” said John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition. “The FCC can and should take immediate action to leverage the broadband capabilities of our nation’s community anchor institutions to make affordable broadband available to everyone.”
In a letter, edtech advocacy groups called on the FCC to allow federal E-rate funds to fund home internet for students as well.
“According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 14 percent of children had no internet access at home in 2017, the most recent year available. Moreover, major equity gaps exist—12 percent of white students had no internet access at home, compared to nearly 20 percent of black and Latino students and 37 percent of Native students.”