Rural school districts can be creative in solving the internet connectivity gap—but they need support
While COVID-19-related school closures in spring 2020 challenged every school district, students in rural districts faced especially significant barriers. In particular, lack of consistent internet limited their access to online instruction. These gaps in access to the internet and instruction were evident in our research. However, we also found that rural districts devised innovative strategies to help put materials and instruction in the hands of students.
As the White House faces criticism for a push to return to in-person instruction and a reopening debate splits the nation, some rural schools remain poised to welcome students back to brick-and-mortar settings this month. “Some places have not many cases at all and they’re questioning, ‘Why should we hold off if we’re OK?’” said Allen Pratt, executive director of the National Rural Education Association, adding there are “large parts of the population that want to reopen.” But rural schools face persistent challenges that the coronavirus has only exacerbated. Many school buildings are old and in need of replacement or repair and don’t have adequate air filtration systems. Plus, many rural districts have scant resources to successfully implement hybrid or fully remote learning if their schools need to close again.
After abruptly closing in March at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Illinois school districts are starting to release fall reopening plans. State guidance gives school districts flexibility, but questions abound—and leaders are expected to balance public health guidelines and educate students safely without additional money from the state. In these unprecedented times, Chalkbeat is tracking school reopening news in the Chicago metro region and in the state’s largest districts. Don’t see your district listed? Write to Chalkbeat at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As educators prepare to welcome students back to class for the first time in months, schools’ ability to quickly identify and contain coronavirus outbreaks before they get out of hand will be put to the test in thousands of districts around the country. Newly reopened schools in Mississippi, Indiana and Georgia have already reported infections just days into the academic year, triggering virus protocols that include swiftly isolating infected students, tracing their contacts and quarantining people they exposed.
Chicago plans to cut cut its school police program by more than half next fiscal year, by removing payment for officers on days they are not serving in schools, and no longer paying for mobile patrol officers. That will cut the budget, which was $33 million last year, by $18 million. The budget proposal, part of a broader $8.4 billion spending plan unveiled by the district is the first indication of how the district will modify its school police contract for next year, with COVID-19 dramatically changing the landscape for schools alongside an increased spotlight on the cost of school policing.
As schools across the country grapple with bringing kids back into the classroom, parents—and teachers— are worried about safety. Montana Public Radio asked pediatricians, infectious disease specialists and education experts for help evaluating school district plans. What we learned: There’s no such thing as zero risk, but certain practices can lower the risk of an outbreak at school and keep kids, teachers and families safer. If you’re considering sending your child back to school this fall or in the coming months, start with assessing both your own family’s personal risk and the level of spread in your community.
As the nation’s gaze turns to the reopening of schools this fall, we must realize that safe and accessible education is still an elusive promise for millions of America’s kids, virus or no. It’s taken only a few months for COVID-19 to expose the injuries and inequities that plague many of America’s institutions, and with the return of school, we’ll watch in real time how lack of investment in our public education system cuts across geography and demographics. In small towns and rural communities, especially in the South and on tribal lands, school districts are struggling to gear up—literally—to confront an uncontrolled pandemic, while simultaneously navigating decades of disinvestment and disrepair.
Some kinds of change happen faster than others. Compared with just 10 years ago, far fewer teenagers in the United States are getting pregnant and becoming parents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the teen birth rate has declined by 58 percent since 2007. Less than 5 percent of all babies born in the United States are now born to teen mothers. Although state and federal policymakers have invested significant resources in policies and programs designed to reduce the teen pregnancy rate, few could have predicted how quickly or sharply the rate would decline.
The U.S. Department of Education wants to find out the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on how states and schools use federal aid and flexibility from certain mandates. In a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, the department said it was seeking approval for a new data collection about those issues through the Institute for Education Sciences. “The coronavirus pandemic significantly disrupted K-12 educational operations and learning in spring 2020 and is likely to do so again during the 2020-21 school year,” the scheduled notice states. “Federal education policies and funding are intended to support state and local agencies as they respond to the crisis. But the crisis may also shape the way federal programs are carried out.”
Which Parents Need the Most Support While K–12 Schools and Child Care Centers Are Physically Closed?
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has been particularly challenging for parents as schools and child care centers closed or switched to distance learning in spring 2020. Parents have become not only their children’s primary teachers but also their full-time caretakers (if they had not already taken on that role). For parents who were employed full-time, as well as for those who experienced job loss and financial challenges during this period, these child care and teaching burdens may have felt insurmountable. Nearly half of parents of children in public schools (grades K–12) who responded to a recent national survey indicated that they had some or a lot of worry about juggling their many responsibilities while everyone was at home, and a separate survey indicated that parents’ most pressing needs included additional money to pay for necessities and help keep children “engaged in good activities.”
At principal Aimee Kasper’s elementary school in Rockford, Illinois, students are used to moving the furniture around. Before the pandemic, first-graders would wheel curved tables that fit together like puzzle pieces when it was time to work in groups. This September, the rolling tables will be locked in place. Seats will be assigned. And the cozy burgundy bean bag chairs will be gone — too difficult to disinfect — while thick tape will designate students’ personal space. “That’s our plan for today,” Kasper said, though “things with COVID change by the minute.”
The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) and National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) on Tuesday launched “Student Privacy and Special Education: An Educator’s Guide During and After COVID-19,” a downloadable resource to help educators navigate privacy challenges for students with disabilities during virtual learning. Schools nationwide are collecting a broader array of sensitive health information on students, families and staff to monitor and limit health risks as they plot reopening strategies in the wake of coronavirus-related building closures earlier in the year. The guide is designed to help schools navigate the variety of privacy laws impacting distance learning and special education services.
The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) recently came out with a series of ten papers on ways to streamline the notoriously complicated FAFSA, the application for student financial aid. With grant funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation last summer, the organization created an updated version of its 2015 proposal for simplifying the FAFSA and called on a slew of experts to assess the work and contribute research of their own. The FAFSA can be an onerous process for low-income students under ordinary circumstances, said Karen McCarthy, NASFAA’s director of policy analysis, but the release of these papers feels “particularly timely” during the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 has swiftly changed people’s enrollment plans as some choose to go back to school or switch institutions.
Louisa County, Virginia, sprawls across the vast countryside between Richmond and Charlottesville. Only 5,000 students attend the county’s public schools, even though it’s more than an hour’s drive from one end of the county to the other.High-speed internet, or any internet service at all — cell-phone service, too — doesn’t reach many parts of the county. When the schools were forced online in March by the COVID-19 crisis, county school leaders wrangled with how to help more students and families get online for class.
Despite conditions that would work against a small and rural school in an impoverish rural area of the United States, Fairway Elementary School has managed to excel in its accountability measures. Through interviews with faculty, staff, teachers, students, and parents of children at Fairway Elementary School a model was developed through the lens of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It was found that a new administrator at the school started with the physiological needs of the children and are now working within the esteem stage of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Details from each stage of the hierarchy are provided as a promising practice for other rural schools. Fairway Elementary continues to succeed in their efforts to improve not only student achievement, but the culture of their school within an impoverished community.