It’s a big transition week for school districts in New Hampshire. By next Monday, they’re expected to begin remote learning for students until at least April 3, as part of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Districts are communicating with families and teachers about how this will all work, but many questions remain.
Week 1, Day 3
Most districts are using part of this week to give teachers time to plan for remote instruction. For some, it will be an expansion of online platforms they already use. For others, it will be a combination of paper packets and online learning, depending on students' grade level and access to technology.
The state Department of Education has guidance for this on their website, and the non-profit groups New Hampshire Learning Initiative and Motivis are creating a clearinghouse of free online programs for teachers during remote learning.
District administrators are setting up new systems of communication and delivery to accommodate this unprecedented change. Many are collecting surveys this week to assess students’ wellness and families’ needs for internet, tech and free meals, and setting up pickup and dropoff services Wednesday and Thursday.
Meal Delivery for Free and Reduced Lunches
By the end of this week, most districts will have developed systems to serve the nearly 50,000 students in the state eligible for free and reduced lunch. But many are still troubleshooting as they launch their new delivery systems.
Some low-income districts are delivering bagged breakfasts and lunches at bus stops, free to any child under 18. Others have begun curbside pickups at the school. Some rural areas expect to make home deliveries.
Many districts are lending laptops and tablets to students who don't have them at home, but broadband availability is a major hurdle.
Families in Manchester may be able to take advantage of free hotspots and services offered by Comcast in response to school closure. But in more remote areas such as the North Country and Cheshire County, some students don’t have reliable access to the internet and can’t access deals offered by internet service providers.
Special Education Services a Major Challenge for Districts
Students with special ed plans - known as individualized education plans or IEPs - are legally entitled to all services promised by their IEPs, even during a period of remote learning.
The New Hampshire Department of Education has proposed a three-tiered system for providing these services during school closure. Districts are currently reviewing all their IEPs to determine which services can be delivered at which tiers, and communicating the new plans to parents.
In the first tier, students will check in remotely with specialists and paraeducators. In the second tier, students will go in small groups to the school building to receive services that cannot be provided remotely.
In response to concerns about social distancing, the Department of Education says parents can opt out of tier II if they have health concerns.
If the district determines that neither tier I nor tier II are feasible, students will be eligible for “compensatory services,” to make up for the special education and related services the child missed at a later date.
Districts say that providing compensatory services in the summer or fall could have a significant additional cost. The Department of Education is currently looking into flexibility for federal funds that districts use for these services, but has not said whether the state is considering sending more aid to districts to cope with the emergency closure.
Over 30,000 students in New Hampshire have special ed plans. Just several days into the emergency school closure, many parents are worried about how these students’ needs will be met. Some say schools are promising to provide physical and occupational therapy online. Others say their child has significant behavioral or learning challenges that are impossible to manage at home without additional help.
Special ed experts advise parents or guardians to monitor how much schools fulfill a student’s IEP during the remote learning period, but this requires families to understand detailed education plans and have time to supervise kids at home.
The Parent Information Center, a non-profit that helps parents of students with disabilities, has compiled a resource for IEP services during COVID-19.
As Districts Prepare for Short-Term Closure, Long-Term Questions Remain
The NEA-NH teachers’ union wants the state to consider cancelling statewide assessments that are traditionally administered in the late spring to measure student progress.
State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut says he will make this decision after April 3rd.
The Department of Edication is communicating with the College Board about whether it will postpone SATs and Advanced Placement tests this spring because of school closures.
The psychological and social toll for students, families and teachers is still unknown, but some fear this will be deeper than the academic challenges of remote learning. Students are making sense of a world where sports championships, plays, concerts, gatherings, and possibly graduations will be cancelled, and where, according to CDC guidelines, they should not gather in groups of more than 10 people.
The Department of Education plans to issue guidance for tracking and supporting the mental health of students, knowing that many kids will struggle with isolation and limited in-person contact. Commissioner Edelblut says students can still gather in groups of 5 to 6 to collaborate on remote learning projects and socialize, as long as they practice CDC guidelines for social distancing.
The emergency school closure lasts until April 3, at which point the state will reassess whether to open school buildings again. With some experts projecting COVID-19 infections may not peak for weeks, many districts are bracing for schools in New Hampshire to stay shuttered for longer.