If they hadn’t realized it earlier, students at schools in Ahwatukee last week had plenty of reminders that Arizona’s campus shutdowns in response to COVID-19 doesn’t mean that summer vacation has begun early.
“The schools might be closed but education is not closed,” Kyrene Superintendent Jan Vesely said in a video message to parents and students, echoing similar online messages from Tempe Union and Horizon.
Kyrene also distributed more than 1,200 laptops and printed materials to ensure that children in households with no internet service weren’t losing a beat when it came to learning for the rest of the 2019-20 school year what their teachers planned to teach them in the classroom before the pandemic’s outbreak.
“Kyrene’s commitment to equity is evident in the careful planning of distance learning for the remainder of the school year,” district spokeswoman Erin Helm said. “This involves providing laptops to families with no other internet-capable devices in the home as well as doorstep delivery of printed curriculum resources, by request, to ensure that all students have access to the instructional materials.”
The laptop distribution at Kyrene – mirroring a similar outreach that Tempe Union officials made two weeks ago – included carefully scheduled pick up times and what Helm called “a well-spaced distribution setup ensured social distancing at all times.”
Kyrene also delivered 1,000 paper packets of curriculum materials as bus drivers coordinated the delivery with teachers.
Vesely said teachers and administrators had worked around the clock to ensure that distant learning “is consistent from school to school” and said, “Teachers are overjoyed to be connecting again with their students.”
She also said she and her team are “committed to retaining school spirit” and that they are working to figure out how to handle end-of-the-year grade promotion ceremonies, particularly for elementary students who are winding up that phase of their education and bound for middle school next year and for eighth graders who will be high school freshmen come August.
Those ceremonies, like commencement exercises for high school seniors, are in limbo.
On the other hand, everything else at all Ahwatukee schools – from trips and carnivals to plays and celebrations – have been cancelled.
Meanwhile, the state Board of Education last week decided that Arizona’s 86,000 high school seniors won’t be prevented from graduating just because the governor shut down schools.
The board adopted an emergency rule that bars school districts and charter schools from withholding academic credit or a diploma “solely because the student missed instructional time due to a school closure issued by the governor.’’
The rule also says that schools, in determining if a student meets the minimum course and competency requirements, may consider whether that student has successfully completed the educational opportunities that were provided during the days the schools were shuttered. That can include both online instruction and independent study through printed materials.
But the rule does have an escape clause of sorts: if a student actually has not been doing anything while at home, schools can decide that he or she met the requirements if they were “on track to meet the minimum course of study and competency requirements prior to the school closure.’’
That can include, the rule says, whether the student was passing all of his or her courses. Also acceptable would be passing scores on locally or nationally administered academic assessments.
That decision ultimately would be made by local school officials.
And the rule spells out that when schools determine that students are entitled to academic credits and to graduate that they get their transcripts and diplomas “in the same manner’’ as if there had not been a closure.
Kathy Hoffman, the superintendent of public instruction and a member of the board, told Capitol Media Services that the board wants students to be given the benefit of the doubt and get to graduate, even if they didn’t do any work at all since schools were shuttered last month.
“There are definitely situations across the state where students are not going to be able to access high-quality curriculum, whether that’s because they don’t have the ability to get online, or they’re sick, or their family’s sick,’’ she said, citing “so many unique circumstances.’’
“I definitely would not encourage anybody to stop trying or stop working to access high-quality instruction and curriculum,’’ Hoffman said. “I just think we need to be honest that there’s going to be situations that don’t have the ability to meet all the typical expectations we would have during a normal school year.’’
Board of Education member Armando Ruiz worried about the larger effects of the shutdown of close to a third of the school year will have on students.
“It’s going to take from three to five years for kids to catch up,’’ he said. Ruiz was particularly focused on students in the lower grades – and particularly from families who lack access to the internet. He figures that category could equal about 170,000 Arizona children who do not have access to remote learning.
“I’ve heard people say you can do packets,’’ Ruiz said. “Parents are often ill-prepared to teach their kids at home.’’
He cited children in homes where the parents speak only Spanish and lack any way of getting help.
“This is going to be an ongoing challenge for our state,’’ Hoffman said. “There’s no easy solution to make it up.’’
Hoffman conceded, “This will definitely be a multi-year project. It’s not something we can fix overnight.’’
In adopting the rules for graduation, board members declined to consider several suggestions for alterations.
In a filing with the board, a group of school superintendents wanted a requirement to keep community colleges, universities and other post-secondary institutions from revoking already-issued admission letters which were contingent on successful completion of the school year.
Hoffman, however, said the board does not regulate these institutions and has no legal right to direct what they do.
They also suggested -- and the state board did not consider -- a “better but not worse’’ grading policy that allows students to use the time schools are closed to not only take advantage of learning opportunities but also make up missed work or retake exams. That would allow teachers at the end of the school year to update grades, but only to improve them and not to lower them.
Board members in their discussion did not explain their decision not to consider those recommendations. But Hoffman said the board still could take up these issues at a regular meeting.
“Today my intention was to prioritize and take care of some of the high-need areas,’’ she said.