Kansas task force issues guidelines for K-12 remote education plans, stresses learning won’t stop with building closures

photo by: Associated Press

Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson, left, discusses an order from Gov. Laura Kelly, right, to close the state's public and private K-12 schools for the rest of the semester, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Watson says a task force will have recommendations for continuing teaching online and in small groups. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

Kansas students will still keep doing school work — perhaps up to three hours of remote learning per day for older students — under guidelines being unveiled as part of the state’s response to the COVID-19 virus.

Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson stressed Thursday that Kansas students will continue to receive instruction this spring, after Gov. Laura Kelly ordered all school buildings closed for the rest of the academic year in response to the pandemic.

In a teleconference with media, Watson and other education officials outlined Kansas State Department of Education guidelines for school districts to use when creating a continuous learning program. The guidelines, which were released on Thursday, were created by a task force of educators across the state.

The guidelines include allowing small groups of students to meet in person for lessons that are not easily conducted through virtual education avenues, Watson said. They allow schools to host in-person activities that include less than 10 people who are separated by at least six feet. Those rules are in line with recommendations from health officials to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“I want to be crystal clear: We did not shut schools down in Kansas,” Watson said. “We are limiting activity in schools in Kansas.”

The guidelines suggest most students should have a limited amount of at-home learning time. They show the maximum student commitment to learning each day should be 30 minutes for pre-kindergarten, 45 minutes for students in kindergarten and first grade, 60 minutes for students in second and third grades, 90 minutes for students in fourth and fifth grades, and 30 minutes per teacher with a maximum of three hours total for students in sixth grade and up.

Additionally, the guidelines suggest that teachers have weekly assignments, projects, and video check-ins to assess their students’ learning. The full 76-page document is posted on the home page of the KSDE website, ksde.org.

On Tuesday, Kelly issued an executive order closing Kansas’ public and private K-12 schools for the rest of the spring semester. The order came after the state’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases doubled in two days, reaching at least 18 on Tuesday, including one COVID-19-related death in Wyandotte County the previous week. As of Thursday afternoon, Kansas had reported at least 34 confirmed cases of the virus, although officials had started to limit testing in parts of the state because of the widespread nature of the virus and a lack of tests.

In light of the governor’s order, each school district will need to create a continuous learning plan that suits its student population needs, said Cindy Couchman, assistant superintendent of the Buhler school district and member of the task force.

“Every school district is very unique in their student population and very unique in the resources that are available,” she said. “Each school’s plan is going to look slightly different. The purpose of this guidance document is to provide a framework only.”

While many schools may use online learning in their plans, Dyane Smokorowski, a technology teacher in the Andover school district, said many families may not have reliable access to the internet. She said schools may also need to utilize education packets that can be sent to students to be completed at home.

Smokorowski said the state’s guidelines also make sure students are not getting too much device screen time during their at-home learning periods.

“We strongly believe continuous learning is not hours of screen time for teachers, parents or students,” she said. “Continuous learning is learning anytime, anywhere. … This is not sitting on a device all day long.”

Watson said each school district must have a state-approved plan in place by April 15. He said the state is requesting school districts to submit their plans to the state at least a week prior to the deadline, in order to give KSDE a chance to review them and make sure they are adequate and do not miss the deadline.

Julie Boyle, spokeswoman for the Lawrence school district, said in a news release earlier this week that the school district is currently working to implement a continuous learning plan for students that will begin on March 30.

In light of the announced guidelines, the Kansas chapter of the National Education Association, a large teachers union in the state, said in a news release that teachers are prepared to take on the new challenge. The organization thanked the educators who worked on the task force to create the guidelines.

“I’m not sure when I’ve been more proud of my colleagues, the teachers of Kansas who refuse to allow student-learning to suffer,” Mark Farr, president of the Kansas NEA, said in the news release. “I want every teacher and student to know that we are working to keep everyone safe and learning.”

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Standardized tests canceled this year

Watson on Thursday also said state standardized tests will be canceled this academic year while school buildings remain closed.

Watson told reporters that because the U.S. Department of Education doesn’t allow virtual testing, tests are off this year unless something changes “dramatically.”

“It would just be impossible for it to be done in the manner that it should be done from a confidentiality perspective,” Watson said.

More coverage: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

As the pandemic continues, the Journal-World will be making coverage of COVID-19 available outside of the paywall on LJWorld.com.

Find all coverage of city, county and state responses to the virus at: ljworld.com/coronavirus/

What to do if you think you may have COVID-19

Patients who have symptoms — difficulty breathing, cough and fever — should stay home, immediately isolate themselves from others and call their health care providers. Patients should never show up unannounced at a medical office or hospital. Instead, they should call ahead to explain their symptoms and give health care workers the ability to minimize the risk to others.

If patients do not have health care providers, they may call the Lawrence Douglas-County health department’s coronavirus line, 785-856-4343.

For updated information on the outbreak, Kansas residents can email COVID-19@ks.gov or call 866-534-3463 (866-KDHEINF), which is staffed 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

More information can be found through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website or the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health website.

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