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School districts ramp up distance learning as coronavirus response keeps schools closed

State Superintendent Chris Reykdal
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press
State Superintendent Chris Reykdal

With more than one million K-12 students out of school due to the coronavirus pandemic, districts in Washington have faced the task of adapting a school system based on in-person instruction and supports to something that can be done remotely.

Chris Reykdal, the state superintendent of public instruction, has issued guidance to districts that they now have to provide educational services to students even though schools have been shuttered. But what that looks like in practice will vary district to district and household to household.

And as for families feeling overwhelmed trying to manage their children’s learning, Reykdal said his guidance is not meant as a mandate for students and there’s no directive from the state that assignments be graded during this period of distance learning. But there is an expectation that districts “are sending opportunities for families and checking in, and that’s what you’re seeing build out right now.”

Some school districts have robust computer resources for their students. Other districts do not. Many are providing online materials as well as printed packets of worksheets. The Seattle district is broadcasting lessons on TV and social media and having teachers check in with students twice a week. In Shoreline, educators will offer learning videos for students to view on-demand. The district said it will emphasize instruction for high school seniors because of the need for them to continue to earn credits in order to graduate on time.

In the Bethel School District in Pierce County, all middle and high schoolers have iPads from the district. Jennifer Bethman, assistant superintendent of secondary schools, said that’s allowed teachers to move ahead with instruction.  

“They’re meeting with them once a week via Zoom, guiding them through some instructional pieces and then the teachers hold office hours,” Bethman said.

She said teachers have risen to the challenge and are showing creativity. One band teacher at Graham-Kapowsin High School had his students record themselves playing their individual parts and then he mixed it all together.

The piece that Graham-Kapowsin High School Band Director David Stewart mixed from recordings of his students playing their individual parts.

In Tacoma, Superintendent Carla Santorno said teachers will be contacting students and providing access to educational materials online and in printed packets. But she said the aim is to keep expectations manageable given the strains on students and families.

“At our secondary schools, of course, we don’t want three hours of work from every teacher because that would bury our youngsters, so we want them to get thoughtful, considerate, helpful, relevant work,” she said at a school board work session.