Photo: Julie Leopo / EdSource
Students return Chromebooks to the library at the end of the day in Alpaugh Unified.

Gov. Gavin Newsom advised school districts on Tuesday that they should expect to be closed the rest of the school year. On Wednesday, educators began Day 1 of that new and, for some, shocking reality with a 75-minute webinar led by the California Department of Education, viewed by about 7,000 people, on how to provide distance learning, meals for students and limited child care while schools are shut down because of the coronavirus.

Newsom issued the directive to provide those services on March 13. Since then, it has become more difficult to meet those obligations, with tightening restrictions throughout California on gatherings and moving about. But in remarks on Tuesday and in a lengthy guidance document issued Tuesday night, state education officials said they understand the challenges that districts will face and will work with them.

Ben Chida, senior adviser to Newsom and his liaison with schools on the coronavirus, gave educators simple advice: “As facts change on the ground, keep in mind that our north star is to do what calls you to this work, and we will have your back.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond reiterated that school districts will receive funding and won’t have to worry about state testing, including the Smarter Balanced assessments in math and English language arts: State tests will be suspended, pending a federal waiver, he said.

“The governor’s order gives flexibility to school districts to provide different ways to deliver education,” Thurmond said. “It says that no school district needs to worry about funding; every school district will receive the funding that it needs as it finds alternative and creative ways to ensure that California students receive education.”

And Wesley Smith, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, encouraged a positive mindset: “We have to change our paradigm. I would encourage us not to be overwhelmed by the guidance. Instead of thinking about what we are being forced to do, let’s ask the question, ‘What can we do? What is practical? What is doable and then what support do you need?’”  The state, his organization and others “will step up to provide you that support,” he said.

Thurmond said the guidance document will be updated at least weekly as events change and will incorporate ideas and suggestions. The department received dozens of questions during the webinar but didn’t have time to answer them. Thurmond said the updated guidance would incorporate answers.

The document is divided into chapters on distance learning, school meals and child care, with sections broadly addressing how to serve special education students and English learners. What follows are summaries of the elements with comments from the webinar.

Distance learning

The guidance said districts must immediately create a plan for distance learning, while recognizing that districts may have to ramp up efforts over several weeks. Shanine Coats, director of the state education department’s Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division, reiterated what the guidance emphasized: “In these difficult times, we cannot lose track of the needs of our most disadvantaged students.”

All students are legally entitled to standards-aligned materials. Some districts have been reluctant to plan new lessons due to the inability and uncertainty of reaching students who may not have home computers and internet access at home. The guidance encourages districts to find innovative ways and sources to provide lessons.

But equal access does not require all students receive the same material the same way. “Instead of abandoning a promising e-learning approach because not all students will have equal access to it from home, the plan should include an analysis of alternate deliveries of comparable educational content,” the guidance says. These could include paper materials, phone calls to students at home and face-to-face meetings complying with social distancing.

While acknowledging that distance learning offerings will be “uneven” among districts, State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond said in an interview, “we are not as far behind on distant learning as many people think.” Thanks to donations from businesses and other sources, she said, “in many places there is going to be a capacity to have every student covered by Wi-Fi and portable devices.” In fact, she said, one outcome of the current dire situation is that “there is a good chance this will accelerate what school districts can do” in regards to distance learning.

The guidance from the state includes extensive links to resources and best practices for online learning, including a section, assembled by the Riverside County Office of Education, on how to start from scratch. It features the gamut of experience: full-blown online learning by the Westlake Charter School, Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ plan for emergency learning, and Los Angeles Unified’s partnership with PBS to provide rich programming for all grades. The PBS service is particularly useful for students without Wi-Fi or a home computer, since most families do have a television, Coats said.

Look around for innovations, said Kristin Wright, director of the state’s Special Education Division, such as South Carolina’s use of school buses to deliver food and lesson plans to homes and to serve as local internet hot spots.

School meals

The Department of Education also offered guidance and clarification about offering non-congregate meals to students, with a focus on students from low-income families who are eligible for free and reduced-priced lunches.

Students from families earning between 130 and 185 percent of the federal poverty threshold are eligible for the National School Lunch Program. Although feeding students from low-income families is the focus, many districts are feeding every child that shows up to pick up a meal.

Already most school districts are passing out meals to families as they drive through bus lanes or parking lots, while others are serving lunches from food trucks at bus stops, said Kim Frinzell, director of Nutrition Services for the California Department of Education. Districts also have teamed up with libraries, food banks and community organizations to offer meals to students, she said.

Frinzell encouraged school districts who are offering one meal to each child per day to follow the lead of others in the state that are offering two meals to each child each day — lunch for that day and breakfast for the next.

Districts are providing the meals through the Summer Food Service Program, which has the most flexible rules, Frinzell said. But the state is seeking even more flexibility and has submitted multiple waivers to the federal government asking to allow home delivery of meals, flexibility in monitoring new meal service and the ability to allow parents to pick up meals without having their child present.

She informed school districts who aren’t offering the service that they can purchase food from a vendor or local company if they can’t prepare the meals themselves. The vendors must adhere to federal nutritional guidelines.

Frinzell advised school leaders to consider offering meals at multiple sites and to select sites that would be the most accessible to students eligible for the free lunch program. School officials should consider the best times of day to serve the meals to make them as accessible as possible to families, including before and after work hours, as well as during the lunch hour.

Special education

While the federal government has not waived the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal Office of Special Education Programs is apparently allowing districts some flexibility.

The state might also waive some requirements, according to Wright, of the Special Education Division for the state’s education department.

Wright acknowledged Wednesday that special education will be a challenge as long as schools are closed, but districts should try different approaches to meet students’ individual needs.

“We want districts to consider equity, access, innovation and what we can do,” she said. “That doesn’t mean everything will look exactly the same for every student, and that’s OK.”

She suggested that districts could open a school for special education classes, as long as social-distancing guidelines are in place. She also suggested that districts could use their bus services to deliver materials to students’ homes. And she recommended that districts allow students to bring home their technological devices, such as tablets or devices that aid communication.

In addition, the California Department of Education will create a special education workgroup to create more specific recommendations for students in special education.

Child care

The Department of Education is urging districts that are closed to help families find child care, especially for those families who are responding to the crisis, such as health workers, emergency response personnel, child care workers, and key government employees. The state is recommending that districts consider providing temporary child care on school sites or partnering with other local agencies to help families find child care programs that are still open.

The state is allowing employers to provide temporary emergency child care for their employees, and is suggesting that schools that are closed might be one place where this type of child care could be provided.

Child care programs that remain open must adhere to health and safety guidelines from local and state health departments and the  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Bay Area counties that have ordered residents to “shelter in place,” for example, child care should be only for 12 children at a time and focused on the children of health care and other essential workers. There is also new state guidance to try to protect employees from infection, including more disinfection, training on how the virus spreads and screening parents and children for symptoms.

EdSource writers Carolyn Jones, Diana Lambert and Zaidee Stavely contributed to the article. 

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  1. Amy Carmona 4 months ago4 months ago

    My daughter is a special needs student and in an IEP class at her school. I am employed in the food manufacturing field, which is required to continue working. If people like me don't work, others don't eat. I am currently relying on a family member to be at home with my daughter and do the home schooling, but I don't know how long that will last. I need to know what options are available … Read More

    My daughter is a special needs student and in an IEP class at her school. I am employed in the food manufacturing field, which is required to continue working. If people like me don’t work, others don’t eat. I am currently relying on a family member to be at home with my daughter and do the home schooling, but I don’t know how long that will last.

    I need to know what options are available to us as far as child care and help with “distance learning” for special needs kids who need someone physically with them in order to learn.

  2. SD Parent 5 months ago5 months ago

    California has about 1,000 LEAs, so about 1,000 superintendents, 1,000 CFOs (or equivalents), 5,000 school board trustees, and 308,000 educators and this webinar was watched by 7,000 folks? Not exactly impressive ... I worry that this is going to be like what happened during the Great Recession: students were shortchanged in their education (by the loss of instruction due to both reductions in the required numbers of instructional days and to substitute teacher days … Read More

    California has about 1,000 LEAs, so about 1,000 superintendents, 1,000 CFOs (or equivalents), 5,000 school board trustees, and 308,000 educators and this webinar was watched by 7,000 folks? Not exactly impressive …

    I worry that this is going to be like what happened during the Great Recession: students were shortchanged in their education (by the loss of instruction due to both reductions in the required numbers of instructional days and to substitute teacher days to allow for teacher PD for Common Core implementation) and never made whole.

    Rather than pay educators to try to teach from home now (because, let’s face it, it’s not going to be very effective), how about we suspend the school year for all students except high school seniors and restart when either schools can reopen or when schools are ready to implement effective and equitable online learning. Add the instructional days lost this year to 2020-21, and pay school employees when they can actually do effective instruction so that students are made whole at the same time that employees are.

  3. Hal Jordan 5 months ago5 months ago

    Ben Chida, senior adviser to Newsom and his liaison with schools on the coronavirus, gave educators simple advice: “As facts change on the ground, keep in mind that our north star is to do what calls you to this work, and we will have your back.” What does that even mean? Their "north star?" What a bunch of double-speak. Our state is nowhere near ready for distance learning for elementary and secondary education. Our district … Read More

    Ben Chida, senior adviser to Newsom and his liaison with schools on the coronavirus, gave educators simple advice: “As facts change on the ground, keep in mind that our north star is to do what calls you to this work, and we will have your back.”

    What does that even mean? Their “north star?” What a bunch of double-speak.

    Our state is nowhere near ready for distance learning for elementary and secondary education. Our district can’t even guarantee online access to the entire student population – whether it’s a lack of computers, Internet access, or both. We have no access to our classrooms … ya know, where our important materials are currently stores and off-limits. Oh – in addition to the lack of access, we’ve already been told that any work we send out cannot be officially required or graded or added to a student’s final grades. I can’t even guarantee that any of my students will actually log in to our Google Classroom site.

    I posted some encouraging words over the past few days, and asked for my kiddos to check in. Out of 65 students, I’ve heard from four. Four!

    So, I’m not that confident that this is going to work at all.

    Replies

    • Sean S 5 months ago5 months ago

      It’s called a metaphor, Hal.

  4. Raul 5 months ago5 months ago

    End the school year. Call it done. Give grades based on work done so far. Later in the summer, things like a graduation ceremony or Prom could be figured out. Move all middle school and high school kids up to the next grade for next year, but let the elementary parents choose if they want their child moved forward or to repeat the grade. Keep everyone separated until next school year to … Read More

    End the school year. Call it done. Give grades based on work done so far. Later in the summer, things like a graduation ceremony or Prom could be figured out. Move all middle school and high school kids up to the next grade for next year, but let the elementary parents choose if they want their child moved forward or to repeat the grade. Keep everyone separated until next school year to keep as many as possible from getting sick.

  5. Cori 5 months ago5 months ago

    What happens if a student who already doesn’t do well in school due to not caring refuses distance learning and doesn’t comply?

  6. Monique Ortega 5 months ago5 months ago

    Distant or connection? I believe improving distant learning has some benefits, but it has a limited scope. Distant learning requires wifi, a technology device that can handle different programs, or transportation to pick up hard copy materials. As an educator I know the reality many students I work with do not have access to any of it wifi, working technology, or transportation. For example, many of the students told me it takes them an hour … Read More

    Distant or connection? I believe improving distant learning has some benefits, but it has a limited scope. Distant learning requires wifi, a technology device that can handle different programs, or transportation to pick up hard copy materials. As an educator I know the reality many students I work with do not have access to any of it wifi, working technology, or transportation.

    For example, many of the students told me it takes them an hour on bike to get to the location where they are serving lunches. Requiring students with no technology to pick up materials and food that can take them up to an hour is not equitable. Eventually students will not go or do the work.

    The article mentions delivering. Who is going to do this and how will they get paid? I’m one teacher who has 250 students; our school has about 1,700 students. Also, if you know about children and teenagers, they need constant accountability and are not able to self-guide themselves like adults. It is extremely important to have learning happen through connections. Students need adults to guide them, reinforce positive outcomes, and make them accountable. For example, I can give an assignment with clear directions and it isn’t till a friend tells them the directions that they feel able to get started. Often both of them will check with the teacher to clarify. Eventually, as the teacher, I check on them with some feedback letting them know they are accountable to turn it in that day. If I do not do this the work won’t get done.

    To add, doing individual work, partner work, and group work always provides more learning and rigor. Not to mention builds confidence. Distance learning does not consider the youths’ stage of development, which requires connections to improve learning, understanding learning, and retention of learning.

  7. Henry Ortiz 5 months ago5 months ago

    I’m an educator at Golden Plains Unified School District. As president of our local, we are attempting to work with our administration in this new climate. Thank you for the information.

  8. Theodore Weller 5 months ago5 months ago

    ” . . . won’t have to worry about state testing, including the Smarter Balanced assessments in math and English language arts: State tests will be suspended, pending a federal waiver, he said.” And the California Science Test [CAST]?

  9. marco 5 months ago5 months ago

    What a weak response from the state. This is not the time to remain prostrated at the altar of Local Control, with its "local districts know best" mantra. Ninety five percent of districts in the state are totally without the capacity or expertise to rapidly stand up a serious distance learning program. This is a time of unprecedented emergency, including for our kids' education, and the state needs to start acting like its an emergency. … Read More

    What a weak response from the state. This is not the time to remain prostrated at the altar of Local Control, with its “local districts know best” mantra. Ninety five percent of districts in the state are totally without the capacity or expertise to rapidly stand up a serious distance learning program. This is a time of unprecedented emergency, including for our kids’ education, and the state needs to start acting like its an emergency. We were *already* failing to adequately serve our most at-risk students, and mostly failing to adequately serve high-performing students, and only barely serving middle-of-the-pack students. And now we are going to *totally* fail for all of them. The state and feds need to sort out the FAPE question and determine the maximum teaching that can be provided. The state needs to immediately stand up a statewide online school that any district can turn to, if they lack the tools and expertise to create their own. Yeah, a statewide online school won’t perfectly match what each school and teacher and student have been doing, but it will be *something*, better than the *nothing* that many kids are getting, and it would be a full, integrated curriculum, rather than the thrown-together hodgepodge of barely-educational busy-work that so many districts are providing.

    Replies

    • Gregory Lin Lipford 5 months ago5 months ago

      It really isn’t unprecedented emergency for anyone over 15. Worse viruses have come and gone, but yes, the government is pretending this required unprecedented action, and now we probably will have a class of graduates by fiat.

      • marco 5 months ago5 months ago

        “This isn’t an unprecedented emergency for anyone over 15”??

        What are you talking about? Every school in the state is closed; the optional, ungraded, non-standard-curriculum busy work that kids are getting is a bad joke, high school kids will miss AP and SAT tests, and the 2019-20 school year is most likely done. When has anything like this happened since 1918?

  10. Laurice Sommers 5 months ago5 months ago

    What guidance will high schools receive about graduation requirements?

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 5 months ago5 months ago

      That’s one of the questions we hope to answer for you, Laurice.

    • Gregory Lin Lipford 5 months ago5 months ago

      Looks like a really big Class of 21 to me .. unless the state is just going to blow off requirements, which is usually the answer to any difficulty.

  11. Urania 5 months ago5 months ago

    What about private Christian schools? Will they be entitled to any assistance through this hardship?