Task force looks at schooling options after COVID-19 outbreak

State BOE weighing options for schools due to coronavirus

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Alabama State Department of Education created a task force that would recommend solutions for future school decisions as the coronavrius outbreak continues.

The task force held its first meeting Thursday. State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey said the task force will focus on several different aspects of education. They will look at several different scenarios outlined below for instances if classes are delayed or closed.

Mackey said no decisions have been made but that the task force will gather questions to find best practices. He said there will most likely be multiple solutions because each school district is different.

What if school closures are extended?

If students return to school April 6 like planned, he does not foresee any delays in graduations. If school delays were extended, then the state would look at summer graduations.

Mackey said if school closures are pushed back again, the department will look at methods to condense instruction in a shorter time period.

If school closures are extended, Mackey said they need to find more permanent solutions to provide school lunches and resources for students with special needs.

“We want to make sure that we can re-institute those services as quickly and efficiently as possible, so that’s one thing we’ll be looking at, those kind of related services,” he said.

What about standardized testing?

Canceling standardized testing is an option on the table for state leaders. Alabama would need to receive a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education in order to cancel standardized testing.

Mackey said if school closure is extended, there is “no question” the department would look at canceling standardized assessments for this year.

Alabama is already rolling out a new state test this year.

“What we don’t want to do is roll out that new test, which we feel very good about in the middle of a crisis,” Mackey said.

What if school closes for the rest of the year?

Mackey calls this a “big if” scenario, however, he says the department needs to plan.

“Hopefully this public health crisis, what we’re doing now we’ll, as I say, smooth that curve out, and we will be able to reopen, that’s certainly the best case scenario, but we have to plan for not the best case scenario with the worst case scenario,” he said.

The task force will also look at options for graduation. One option is to immediately provide students with their diplomas if school is canceled. But it would not be Mackey’s first choice.

“But the big thing we have to think about as educators is that we don’t create learning gaps that slow students down later," he said. “So it’s not just a matter of can we cut the school year off early and say, ‘Hey, you got a diploma and go on to college.’ It’s a matter of are you prepared for college?”

Summer graduations are an option as well. Mackey said some seniors could come back for a compressed summer program. The task force will also look at online options.

Partially open schools scenario

Mackey said the task force will look at partially opening schools meaning some students would be allowed in to keep the social distancing rule.

“So that again, we would be honoring social distancing,” he said.

Virtual learning

Mackey said the task force will look at online and virtual learning. Not all students have access to internet, but Mackey said they are looking at loading lessons onto a device and sending that device home with a child.

“But then obviously, students can’t just learn from that device," he said. "They’re going to have questions. They’re going to need tutoring help. So how do we get teachers help today is that through some kind of telecommuting, or phone service, those kind of things we’ve talked about?”

Mackey said the task force will break into subcommittees and work groups and come back within a few days with suggestions.

If you develop symptoms for the coronavirus and need to be tested, call 1-888-264-2256.

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