Across New England, states are developing infrastructure and best practices to support remote learning in response to COVID19. Departments of Education are reviewing policies and making adjustments to benefit students and educators. States are demonstrating ingenuity and increased flexibility during this transition.
Training for Educators:
It is impressive to see how quickly each state compiled vast resources for educators in support of remote instruction. For example, in Connecticut its Department of Education is offering “Professional Support Services for Districts” with presentations on “Guidance on Special Education” and “Early Childhood and Distance Learning.” Similarly, New Hampshire has implemented #NHLearnsRemotely with a list of online resources as well as webinars provided by the Department and Demonstrated Success.
All New England states have either already received or have requested a waiver for their annual spring assessments. Without assessment data at the ready, including local assessment results, educators will be challenged in delivering individualized instruction and identifying learning gaps across grades.
Within each state, there is variability in grading practices as they are being determined at the local level. For example, in Maine some schools are maintaining grading practices, while others are implementing a Pass/Fail system.
States are also looking at different ways to modify graduation requirements. For example, in New Hampshire graduation decisions are to be based on competence, not instructional time.
There is significant flexibility in attendance requirements. In Vermont, students who have some form of contact with their classroom teacher or other educator are considered “present” for the day. In New Hampshire, districts who fall short of the required 180 days can consider the minimum number of hours in lieu of days, or request a waiver from the State Board of Education.
And, in Maine, leaders plan to universally waive the minimum number of school days for all SAUs who receive local school board approval.
New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island have officially closed through May 1 or 4, while Connecticut has only officially closed through April 20; Vermont has closed schools through the end of the year unless otherwise directed by its Department of Health. With the Maine Commissioner’s recent recommendation that educators plan for remote learning for the remainder of the academic year, Kittery School District already announced closures through the school year. New Hampshire hopes to make a decision about whether or not to keep schools closed by April 17.
Across the region, response to April vacation varies. Vermont is maintaining its April break per the original school calendar, while in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, it has been left for local decision makers.
Special Education and ESOL:
One of the biggest challenges districts face with remote learning is equity for special education and ESOL students. Early in the remote learning process, Maine reported that “school leaders were hesitant to offer any services until they were able to support full IEP accommodations” and encouraged educators to provide the best programming under these unprecedented circumstances. This sentiment was shared across the nation. The Commissioner acknowledged that FAPE is delivered differently in emergency settings and “fear of putting forth anything short of perfection at this time will immobilize you and your teams of educators when you most need to be proactive and innovative.”
In Vermont, Special Ed teachers are directed to connect with every student every day and develop schedules that are flexible – yet predictable – to meet individual needs.
In NH, educational leaders acknowledged that some IEP accommodations may require face-to-face, small group, or 1-on-1 delivery at the school or other location where social distancing protocols can be followed. For those students who can not be serviced, the State will work with local districts to provide compensatory services.
Supporting Vulnerable Students:
Another common theme across New England, is the dedication to at risk children. States have implemented systems to provide meals for at-risk students and have had to make delivery adjustments in just these few short weeks.
In Massachusetts and Vermont, educational leaders have found innovative ways to partner with public broadcasters. PBS in Vermont is providing educational content to supplement remote learning while WGBH, Boston, is expanding its education broadcasting.
Many internet providers have taken the “Americans Connected Pledge” which allows for flexibility and payment waivers, enabling more students to have internet access to participate in online learning. Other providers are providing free access to broadband services for a limited time. Rochester, New Hampshire is one example of many districts using their buses outfitted with wifi units as internet “hot spots.”
Waivers for Professional Development and Performance Evaluations:
States are re-evaluating professional development requirements and performance evaluations. For example, Maine’s renewal certifications have been extended for one year and the state department is leaving professional growth accountability systems to the discretion of local boards.
As we near the 4-week mark of remote learning, states are constantly evaluating and refining policies and procedures. They are demonstrating flexibility and creativity in navigating a new educational landscape, and have acknowledged that remote learning cannot provide the same high-quality education as in-person classroom instruction. Yet, they encourage their educators to do their best under these unique circumstances. We extend our appreciation to all educators for their unwavering dedication to students across the region.
Note: Because of the quickly changing nature of policy and regulation, some of this information may not be up-to-date.