For now, schools will remain closed through April 6 because of the coronavirus, and educators are transitioning to help students learn while outside of the classrooms.
Officials with the state Department of Education answered questions Wednesday morning on a conference call with reporters about the latest efforts to address distance learning, graduation and more.
Feeding families and students was a top priority when the coronavirus pandemic shut down schools earlier this month, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera said. School districts have been offering free meals to students.
The state now is working to meet the educational demands of students, he said.
Here are some answers to questions:
Will school closures be extended again?
Currently, K-12 schools will remain closed through at least April 6, and Rivera said they are working closely with the state Department of Health and the governor on guidance for when schools could reopen.They have been using data on the number of coronavirus cases to make decisions.
The state Department of Health reported increases in the number of cases again on Wednesday.
“… we possibly could be looking at … further extending the timeline on the direction of the governor,” Rivera said.
How will schools offer learning?
The Department of Education isn’t waiting to see what happens week to week or month to month with the school closures, Rivera said.
It is engaging with the 29 intermediate units in the state to create and support schools with plans to continue learning, he said. Some communities might not have access to technology, so the alternative methods will include a variety of options, such as online learning, paper and pencil, and modules.
It will depend on what the community needs to ensure that students have access to high quality educational material, he said.
The state Department of Education has been strongly encouraging school districts to continue to provide educational learning for students moving forward or at least to offer enrichment to lessen the gap, Rivera said.
How is the state helping districts?
Education service providers are helping districts with planning and access to existing resources, deputy secretary Matthew Stem said.
The state has three training networks in the state, and they have a series of free online resources. They include videos for students, resources for educators and information for parents on how to work with their children.
“… we believe strongly it’s our role to stand in the gap to ensure to the best that we’re able, that all students have access to learning during this unprecedented situation,” he said.
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What’s being done for graduating seniors?
The state has put a team in place to work on helping seniors graduate this year, Rivera said.
The concern is not only for traditional students, but seniors who are in career/technical education programs, in co-ops and externships if schools are unable to reopen, he said. It could impact their post-secondary opportunities.
The team is looking at federal and state laws and working on a pathway for graduation.
“We’re going to do whatever we need to do to make sure those students are given the resources and the access that they need to graduate, but to graduate prepared as well,” he said.
Could schools be extended past June 30?
No, Rivera said, that is not allowed by statute. That’s when schools close, and go into the cycle for the next school year.
He added that the governor has waived the 180-day requirement for schools to be in session.
What’s the message Secretary Rivera has for the community?
As the secretary of education, an educator and a parent of two school-aged children, Rivera said he feels all the emotions that others in the community are feeling at this time.
“These times are extremely scary and I think as leaders, as parents, as educators, you know, as students, we can feel extremely vulnerable at this time,” he said.
His own son has told him that he can’t wait to get back to school.
Rivera thanked the teachers who are doing “extraordinary things,” such as driving down the streets to check on students. He acknowledged parents who have stepped up and are trying to teach their children.
“But at the end of the day, you know, my message to them is let’s continue to stand together. Let’s continue to work together and together, we’re going to make it through this,” he said.
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