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State Guidance Addresses Equity Implications of Distance Learning during COVID-19


Alexandria, VA—According to a new policy update from NASBE, nearly every state has issued guidance to help schools implement continuous learning for students and adapt to a variety of needs and circumstances amidst widespread school closures from COVID-19. State guidance addresses equity concerns and accessibility of instruction for all students, time spent in online learning, teacher resources and support, and services for students with disabilities.

State guidance recognizes that not all homes are equally well equipped for online learning. California’s guidance asks districts to consider where a student falls in a continuum of content delivery options, including delivering online curriculum for students to work on at home and sending students paper packets of materials. Illinois’s guidance leans away from teaching new content, stating students “cannot be required to master and cannot be penalized for failure to master new content.”

Thirteen states recommend surveying families to identify technology needs. Many states suggest that districts work with internet and cell phone providers to provide connectivity to families. South Carolina, Indiana, and others leverage school buses to serve as wi-fi hotspots in rural areas of the state. States like West Virginia acknowledge additional barriers to successful distance learning: Some students may be home alone while parents are working, they may have to care for siblings during the day, or are experiencing trauma or depression.

Nine states recommend minimum daily learning times for students participating in distance learning. Massachusetts encourages students to engage in meaningful productive learning for approximately half the length of an in-person school day. Other states like Indiana, Oklahoma, and Oregon recommend times by grade bands or suggest what a sample school day looks like in a remote setting.

Nebraska’s guidance heightens the need for teacher-student check-ins, noting teachers are important social, emotional, and instructional touchpoints for the most vulnerable students. It also calls on school leaders to continue supporting the well-being and effectiveness of teachers, managing instructional delivery, vetting resources, and managing communications with families.

Mindful of the U.S. Department of Education’s guidance on the continuation of services for students with disabilities and compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Act, states like Iowa, New York, and Alaska have been proactive in suggesting alternative instructional options for students with disabilities and resources to help districts provide continuity of learning and communicate with parents.

Author Joseph Hedger stresses the importance of collaboration in coronavirus response planning: “State boards and other state policymakers must reach across agencies and across the country to discover how best to guide their school systems through the equity and social-emotional challenges students are facing.”

Read Continued Learning during COVID-19.

NASBE serves as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances. Learn more at www.nasbe.org.

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