Local school officials are scrambling to develop distance learning plans to keep educating going for kids while schools are shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Winfield and Ark City officials said they hope to have something to offer by March 30.

“We’re going to try and complete our school year just as the calendar falls,” USD 456 Superintendent Nathan Reed said Friday.

The district is looking at a two-prong educational approach, Reed explained. Some students would use virtual technology while others with technology could special packets of learning materials.

The district is asking parents to respond to a survey that includes questions about online connectivity and learning methods.

Some students might move through the program more quickly than others.

“We’re not currently setup for a one-on-one initiative for all students K through 12,” he said. “But we can get pretty close with the amount of computers that we have.”

The Ark City district alerted parents on Friday to a survey about levels of internet and cell phone connectivity in their homes.

USD 470 Superintendent Ron Ballard said the survey response already had been enthusiastic with lots of suggestions. The district website now has answers to some basic questions, such as will all students be held back (no), and will hourly employees continue to get paid (yes).

“Until we have more feedback from parents and guardians, we can’t say much in detail,” Ballard said, adding that the state guidelines for distance learning were just received Thursday.  

A state task force of educators published guidelines for “distance” learning  

for local districts. The guidelines state that students should have weekly assignments, projects and, possibly, video check-ins. 

The recommended guidelines for maximum student commitment each day are:

• Pre-K: 30 minute

• K-1: 45 minutes

• Grades 2-3: 60 minutes.

• Grades 4-5: 90 minutes.

• Grades 6-12: 30 minutes per teacher for a maximum of three hours per day.

Those guidelines are meant for any delivery model – packets, online, hybrid, etc. 

“Some students will be able to put pencil to paper and do school through at-home projects, etc.,” the guidelines state. “Other students may be able to attend school for small-group learning sessions, if deemed safe to do so by county and state health officials.”

Ballard said some teachers already have done online postings or sessions throughout the break time to curb the lag in learning.

“Teachers are key as we assemble our plan this coming week, and identify the best ways to serve our kids,” Ballard said.

In an email to parents, Ballard said the district had received questions about event such as prom, athletics and graduation. Athletics are canceled for now and “We will be answering additional questions, including graduation, in the coming days.”

Next week district employees will be called back to help design a learning plan, he added.

“This may be a different approach. But we’re confident our team can and will give students a quality educational experience.”

Reed said the Winfield district hopes to get technology into the hands of students from the third through 12th grades. 

Each household would receive one device, he said. Those with more than one student will need to share.

Distance learning will have bumps in the road, he said, but it’s also a chance for the district to flex its creativity.

Reed said one challenges will how to hold students accountable. 

“We’ll make mistakes and it will be clunky. We’ll have to pivot and do things differently. We’re going to just have to be flexible.”

He plans to recommend during a special board meeting Monday that the district accept the state’s minimum academic requirements.

USD 465 also wants to do something for graduates, perhaps one-on-one ceremonies for students and families who wish to participate.

“We want to do something special for our graduates,” Reed said. “We understand how unfair it is for this group of kiddos that this has happened.”

Meanwhile, parents await word from their districts. Some are finding ways to keep their children occupied. Colby Lynn Martin said she is teaching her kids to produce food, such as raising chickens, making canned jelly and baking bread.

“It’s been a lot of fun ‘homeschooling,’” Martin said.

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