Alabama K-12 public schools should plan for students to finish their school year at home, Gov. Kay Ivey said today.
“This decision has not been made lightly,” said Ivey in a press conference late today. She said she hoped Alabama would be able to welcome back students on April 6. “However, the virus continues to spread.”
Alabama’s K-12 public and private school buildings have been closed by state health order since March 19 to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Ivey today issued an order that all local school systems should adopt a plan to finish the academic year through “alternative methods of instruction,” such as online courses, beginning April 6.
“We must be serious about eliminating the spread of this virus,” Ivey said, urging Alabamians to continue with safe health practices and to stay isolated in their homes. “This does not mean you stay at home and then invite all your friends to come over for a visit.”
At today’s press conference, Ivey announced she is supplementing her state of emergency order with the following language:
“Beginning at the start of school on April 6, 2020, all public K-12 schools shall implement a plan to complete the 2019-2020 school year using alternate methods of instruction as established by the State Superintendent of Education.”
“Local school districts shall make staffing decisions and determinations related to access to school buildings in accordance with all applicable public health orders and the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Alabama Department of Public Health.”
Ivey said it is important to make sure students continue receiving special education services they need, “to most closely approximate the therapy and special services they would receive in a normal school day.”
Until April 6, all learning is optional, meaning school officials cannot assign graded work or require work of students. Alabama joins three states—Kansas, Oklahoma, and Virginia—that have decided not to reopen schools before the end of the official school year. North Carolina and Delaware won’t reopen before May 15.
Alabama does not regulate private schools. Decisions about what private schools do must be made individually by private school administrators in accordance with health department restrictions.
“Nothing can replace the interaction between the teacher and the students in a classroom setting.” Ivey said. “However, access to high-quality instruction is crucial for our students to maintain their competitive edge academically.”
Alabama State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey is meeting with superintendents on Friday to begin making plans for how learning will continue on April 6.
“We are working diligently with our local superintendents and their teams to make sure there is a plan in place for every school,” Mackey said, “for every child to continue their learning to close out their school year, to graduate our seniors on time or very close to on-time, and by the end of this summer they will be moving on either into that next grade or moving on to their next step after high school.”
Mackey acknowledged that districts across the state have “different levels of capacity” to do online learning. Where no connectivity is possible, they’ll offer “old-fashioned” take-home packets.
Reading and math will be prioritized for students in lower grades, Mackey said, and credit-bearing courses will be prioritized for students in higher grades.
The school year will technically end on June 5, he said, where originally most districts were scheduled to end their school year May 22. All spring sports and extracurricular activities are canceled, but if health conditions permit, schools could hold graduation ceremonies later in the summer.
Mackey convened a statewide education task force, which met last week for the first time, to determine how to move forward with educating students if schools do not reopen. Making sure high school seniors graduate is Mackey’s top priority, he said previously.
With all Alabama students now home from school, educators are worried about academic losses. As schools prepared to close, many handed out instructional packets, and some are posting learning activities on their social media pages.
Mackey said teachers are prepared to “catch students up” on the days they’ve missed so far. Because most school districts have taken a week of spring break during the closures, most students will only have missed seven days of instruction.
While some districts can easily move to distance learning online, many districts have not been able to invest in the technology needed and some in rural areas do not have the internet capability to connect students to their schools.
After the press conference, some school superintendents sent notices to their communities through social media, asking for patience as they work out details, promising answers after Friday’s meeting with Mackey.
In a nonscientific poll posted to AL.com yesterday, nearly two-thirds of the 5,000 who responded by 3 p.m. Thursday said schools should stay closed through the end of the school year. Just under 10% recommended schools reopen on April 6 as originally planned. Just over a quarter of respondents said schools should reopen at some point before the end of the school year.
On the same poll, just under a quarter of respondents said all learning should be optional, not required. Seven out of 10 said learning, directed by schools, should take place while schools are closed.
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