Since March 11, 2020 when the World Health Organization (WHO) first publicly identified the Coronavirus as a worldwide pandemic, U.S. governors and school districts have been put in the position of deciding whether schools should remain open.
On March 12, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an Interim Guidance for Administrators of US K-12 Schools and Child Care Programs designed to help educators “Plan, Prepare, and respond to Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).” The guidance left decision-making school closures and subsequent school-at-home orders up to state and local governments:
“All decisions about implementing school-based strategies (e.g., dismissals, event cancellations, other social distancing measures) should be made locally, in collaboration with local health officials who can help determine the level of transmission in the community.” (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/guidance-for-schools.html)
By March 16, the mainstream media was reporting the fact that public schools had begun to rapidly switch to school-at-home arrangements for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency:
“Millions of U.S. students will abruptly switch to learning remotely this week amid the coronavirus pandemic, pushing school administrators and teachers to establish on the fly ways to transfer the classroom to the home.” (https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-schools-deploy-remote-learning-on-unprecedented-scale-11584393501)
On March 17, the Florida Department of Education announced that “All public and private K-12 and career and technical center campuses are closed through April 15, 2020.” (http://www.fldoe.org/newsroom/latest-news/florida-department-of-education-announces-additional-guidance-for-the-2019-20-school-year.stml)
On March 27, President Donald J. Trump signed the CARES Act into law. The CARES Act allowed “states and school districts to devote more of their federal resources to technology infrastructure to support distance learning for students and for professional development for teachers who are teaching remotely, many for the first time. By providing a streamlined process to obtain funding flexibilities, states [were given the ability] to quickly make decisions to meet the needs of their students.”
On March 31, California’s Sacramento Bee announced that, according to a letter from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, “Schools in California will be unable to physically reopen this academic year due to concerns of Coronavirus.” The Superintendent additionally encouraged educators to pivot quickly to online as students are expected to “shelter in place through May 1 and possibly beyond.” The state’s top education official, Tony Thurmond, on March 30, sent a letter to district superintendents, saying: “it currently appears that our students will not be able to return to school campuses before the end of the school year.” (https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus-close-california-schools-rest-001448386.html).
On March 15, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio closed all schools stating his concern in ordering closures: “I’m very reticent to shut down schools for a variety of reasons. Not just because that’s where a lot of kids get their only good meals, where they get adult supervision, especially teenagers, who otherwise would be out on the streets.”
New York City schools also responded to an April 6 announcement by Governor Cuomo that extended the school closure window through at least April 29: “All public school buildings in New York State will now remain closed until April 29. The State also announced that high school Regents exams have been canceled. We will be providing official guidance on the effect of Regents on our high school students by mid-week once the State has provided additional details.” (https://www.schools.nyc.gov/school-life/health-and-wellness/coronavirus-update). In the same announcement, the Governor stated: “While the shift to remote learning has been challenging for all of us, each day we hear countless examples of how our students, family, teachers, and staff are adapting and improving on the day before. These efforts demonstrate the virtues of perseverance, flexibility, and caring for one another that we all need during this unprecedented time.” ( https://www.schools.nyc.gov/learn-at-home)
Department of Education Response
On April 6, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Authorized New Funding Flexibilities to Support Continued Learning During COVID-19 National Emergency (https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/secretary-education-betsy-devos-authorizes-new-funding-flexibilities-support-continued-learning-during-covid-19-national-emergency) Secretary DeVos described the funding announcement as: “a new streamlined process for providing states funding flexibilities to best meet the needs of students and educators during the COVID-19 national emergency. The new flexibilities, authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, allow schools to repurpose existing K-12 education funds for technology infrastructure and teacher training on distance learning, among other flexibilities to move resources to areas of highest need during the national emergency.” (U.S. Department of Education Coronavirus page: https://www.ed.gov/coronavirus?)
As of April 9, all fifty states had mandated school closures. The education publication The Journal is tracking daily changes to public school closure announcements and on April 9 reported that “Seventeen states so far have extended their mandated statewide school closures through the remainder of the school year, with several more apparently considering closures to the summer break, and at least one contemplating closures beyond summer. At this point, all states now have formal closure mandates, and 46 states have extended their original closure dates to varying degrees. More extensions are expected this week, as several states’ closures are set to expire within the next two weeks.” An updated list of Statewide School Closures can be found at https://thejournal.com/articles/2020/03/17/list-of-states-shutting-down-all-their-schools-grows-to-36.aspx.
Parents Searching for Home School Solutions
The upshot of the Coronavirus pandemic and the state of national emergency is that parents are now becoming homeschool teachers. Dozens of websites have popped up that are geared to assisting parents in navigating their new “side hustle” as teachers, curriculum developers and school administrators.
The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has posted a web page that provides resources to assist districts, students, and parents/guardians in making the transition: OSPI’s Resources for Continuous Learning During School Closures webpage. (NOTE: Check your local school district or State Department of Education website for additional assistance.)
As early as March 16, the New York Post added a page titled “How to home-school your kids like a pro during coronavirus quarantine” (https://nypost.com/2020/03/16/how-to-home-school-your-kids-like-a-pro-during-coronavirus-quarantine/). And the morning television shows are doing what they can to help. The Today show on NBC has produced a website that teaches parents how to home school during the virus. The site offers a wide range of options from free lessons from Scholastic to a daily doodle with Mo Willems. (https://www.today.com/parents/how-homeschool-during-coronavirus-crisis-t176020)
The best resource for K-12 home school curriculum can be found at Global Student Network (GSN) (www.globalstudentnetwork.com ). The site’s home page links to curriculum options, including full study courses for grades K-12. GSN describes its offerings on a home page drop-down tab entitled About: “Founded in 2004, Global Student Network is a leader in providing innovative online curriculum to homeschooling families and partnering schools throughout the world. GSN offers a wide range of online curriculum options. We have over 2000 course offerings including Honors, AP®, World Languages, and Career and Technical Education courses.”
In closing, the task of home schooling an entire nation of K-12 students has fallen to parents, many of whom are now trying to work from home and have added the task of teaching to their existing fulltime jobs. This arrangement could either suggest to parents that home schooling might be a good path for the future or that schoolteachers should be paid better to ensure their continued service to the nation.