The virtual summer school dilemma, reopening schools, online preschooling, final grades and more

Summer school dilemma: As schools finish the academic year, virtual summer school plans are being made in Palm Beach County and other districts to help those students who fell behind after the coronavirus outbreak closed schools. Targeted are the students who are significantly below grade level and those who aren’t native English speakers. But how can school officials reach those students when many of them are the very ones who couldn’t or wouldn’t participate in online learning? In Palm Beach County, 86 percent of students were checking in online in late March, when remote learning began. By May 20, the percentage of students accessing the school’s online portal had dropped to 72 percent, and the rates were noticeably lower for students living in high-poverty areas. The district plans to attack the problem with direct contact, finding ways to get devices and online access to students who need it, and hiring teachers who have had the most success with online instruction. Palm Beach Post.

Reopening schools: School districts across the United States continue to discuss ideas on how they can safely reopen schools in the fall. Some districts already have proposals to consider, while others are still forming plans with the help of parents. Many of the ideas will be copied by most districts: physical distancing between students, the use of masks and hand sanitizer, limiting campus visitors. Others will be specific to the needs of districts, such as staggered time times, a learning model blending in-person and online instruction. Some are innovating, such as the Montana school using hula hoops around children to enforce social distancing. But time is short, and no one thinks it’s going to be easy. “It’s tough. A school is not designed for social distancing, it’s designed for massive groups of people,” said Gerald Hill, superintendent of the West Bloomfield School District in Michigan. “We’ll have hand sanitizer all over the place. We’re exploring masks. Will a kindergartner keep a mask on all day at school?” Wall Street Journal. The Martin County School District has launched a survey to get feedback from parents about things they’d like to see in place when schools reopen. WPTV. Florida’s 12 state universities are scrambling to meet a mid-June deadline for having their fall reopening plans in place. News Service of Florida.

Online learning: Online learning is especially challenging for preschoolers, for whom schooling is as much about interacting successfully with other children as it is about learning shapes and letters and numbers. But when the coronavirus outbreak shuttered about half the state’s preschools and child-care centers, going online was one of the few options available. Experts say it’s better than no learning. “There’s no such thing as online pre-K. Even though learning is happening, it can’t be what they can learn in a classroom,” said GG Weisenfeld, an assistant research professor at the National Institute for Early Education Research. But, she added, “We don’t want to worry parents; there are still some benefits, it’s just different.” Some districts, such as Hillsborough, Escambia and Miami-Dade, are giving about 3,000 mostly low-income students access to a free learning program. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WEWF. A series of surveys by 28 educational groups suggests that parents are concerned that distance learning is harming their children’s social development. WJXT. Reaching students with behavioral issues and arrests is hard in person, and trying to do it remotely has presented a new set of problems, say their teachers at the PACE Center for Girls in Hillsborough County. Tampa Bay Times.

Final grades: In the absence of state test scores, Pasco County teachers will have wide leeway to decide whether 3rd-graders should advance to 4th grade this year, district officials have announced. The assessment tests were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, prompting the school board to leave the question of retention to teachers in consultation with school leaders and parents. The last time schools and teachers had leeway on promoting 3rd-graders was in 2015, and the number of retentions dropped significantly. Tampa Bay Times.

Remote speech therapy: More than 400,000 Florida students have disabilities, so the sudden switch to online learning was jarring for many of them. One is 7-year-old Peyton Bouret, a 1st-grader at Woodmont Charter School in Hillsborough County who receives speech therapy. Her parents were happy with the progress she was making. Then schools closed and the speech therapy moved online, which required adjustments for both Peyton and speech pathologist Stephanie Zalich. Gradebook.

More on the coronavirus: As the Escambia County school year ends for the summer, so does the district’s meal distribution program. State and local food pantries are gearing up for the anticipated increase in demand. Pensacola News Journal. More than 120 students at Pine Hills Elementary School in Orlando who recently went to school to pick up their personal things were surprised with new bicycles from the Bikes For Kids Foundation. WFTV.

Teacher wins at Jeopardy!: Amanda Baltimore, a 7th-grade science teacher at DeLaura Middle School in Brevard County, won her first match Monday night in the Jeopardy! teachers tournament, which was filmed in February. She collected $17,600 to defeat New York teacher Peter Gouveia, who won $6,399, and Mississippi teacher Ivory Johnson, who finished with $0. Baltimore advances to the semifinals next week. The annual tournament has 15 K-12 teachers competing for a $100,000 grand prize and a position in the next Tournament of Champions. Jeopardy!. YouTube.

Opinions on schools: Florida’s education officials have made the civic literacy requirement a joke by approving a new rule that allows students to meet the requirement by correctly answering 60 of 100 multiple-choice questions on a test that is simply an adaptation of the U.S. Immigration Services naturalization test. Bob Holladay, Florida Phoenix. It’s time for the United States to join the rest of the world. When schools reopen for in-person learning, American children should go to school year-round. Ann McFeatters, Miami Herald. What lasting academic effects will coronavirus school shutdowns have on students? Research on previous disasters offers some clues. Chad Aldeman, The 74. States are increasingly offering parents more school choice options. But for these choices to be truly viable options for all students, including those with disabilities, we need to identify ways to empower and equip schools and educators who will both welcome our children and help them reach their full potential. Karla Phillips, redefinED.

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BY NextSteps staff