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Parents criticize State Board of Education for its rules on instructional hours

screenshot of State Board of Education virtual meeting
The State Board of Education met virtually Nov. 4-5 and voted on emergency rules regarding the definition of an instructional hour.

Most students in the state are still doing school remotely because of the pandemic. Some parents who are frustrated with distance learning are criticizing a move by the State Board of Education to allow the status quo to continue.

This summer, the state board passed emergency rules to allow schools to provide Zoom classes or other remote instruction in the pandemic. Now the board has adopted new emergency rules to continue that, with a plan to propose permanent rules and hold a public hearing in early January.

Adrienne Stuart is a mother in Tacoma and one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the board’s emergency rules from the summer. She and the other plaintiffs contend that by redefining an instructional hour, the state has deprived students of a basic education that they’re constitutionally entitled to receive. She said one problem is that schools are counting work students do on their own at home — known as asynchronous work — as instruction.

“Let’s be honest. Asynchronous work means that parents are delivering the basic education that the schools are supposed to be giving our kids,” Stuart said.

State Board of Education Executive Director Randy Spaulding said in a statement that the intent of the rule is to ensure that students continue to receive a basic education during the pandemic and to give schools flexibility when they’re not able to provide all students with in-person learning. He said the rule allows, but does not require, remote learning and that school districts are supposed to provide in-person learning, when needed, for students with disabilities.

More than half of school districts in Washington are offering almost exclusively remote instruction as coronavirus cases have spiked in recent weeks. But remote learning places a lot of burdens on families and it doesn’t work for some students.

Cristine Beckwith is a mother in the Highline school district and another plaintiff in the lawsuit. She said her daughter was struggling so much with remote learning that she had to move her to a private school that offers in-person instruction.

“That is the angle of all of this COVID situation is that one health crisis matters more than another and mental health is completely back-burnered by this state,” she said.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.