Current Crisis Presents Major Challenges
April 2, 2020
Last week, the State Board of Education announced sweeping changes as a result of COVID-19. To summarize, the board voted unanimously continue the cessation of all public school instruction and activities through the remainder of the school year. Exceptions will continue for providing nutrition services and core services (such as human resources and maintenances), and staff are authorized to facilitate the delivery of distance learning.
Districts will be required to submit distance learning plans to the State Department of Education (SDE) by April 6. School districts can use SDE’s distance learning resources, or districts can develop their own resources, which must be reviewed by SDE.
To provide further flexibility, the board also approved waivers in several areas, including for the school calendar (1,080 hours or 180 days of instruction). Other waivers dealt with emergency certification, the calculation of certified and legal average daily attendance, (statute directs ADA to be calculated based on students in attendance during a school year. With schools closed and distance learning being implemented, the time period for determining ADA will be based on attendance from the beginning of the school year to March 12) and more.
While the state board of education can amend rules based in statute, it is not certain that boards can supersede their statutory authority. The pandemic of COVID-19 requires immediate decision-making ability; however, when we emerge from this pandemic a constitutional government must also be in place. I believe the State Board of Education should have passed a resolution to request the legislature adjust or modify the public school calendar and not have assumed that power as a non-elected board.
Modifying emergency certification for teachers is one matter, but the Oklahoma constitution grants all responsibility for public school oversight to the legislature and local boards under Article 13 and Title 70 statutes. It was also my assessment the board should have had a definitive, consistent plan on distance learning.
How teachers with limited access to students and instructional materials are expected to teach is uncertain. It is estimated that at least one-third of households do not have internet connection. And, in urban areas, the problem of English Language Learners creates a problem without interpreters. Special Needs modifications that are essential to these children creates another problem under distance learning.
All these factors have presented problems in the past to Virtual Schools and why their academic performance, non-full academic year completion and state and ACT and SAT testing lags. When the student is not directly in front of you, the effectiveness of the teacher is negated.
A good teacher is one who can take information that is difficult to understand and teaches it to children who have difficulty understanding.
The pandemic has created extraordinary circumstances.
However, as best as our nation and state can do so under these conditions, we must adhere to our U.S. and State Constitutions. Otherwise, once we do come out of this crisis, we will not recognize our nation and state.