With new state guidelines, school district prepares for remote education

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With a food pick-up and distribution service up and running, the Blaine school district is now working toward providing other state-mandated services, including childcare for healthcare workers and providing education to the approximately 2,150 students who attend Blaine schools.

The Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) announced new guidance on Monday, March 23, saying it will be mandatory for districts to provide some form of instruction beginning on March 30.

That's the first directive for mandatory education from the state since schools began closing to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

OSPI, the state education board, had previously discouraged districts from providing instruction that might not be accessible to all students, advising instead to make up missed school at the end of the year.

“Although schools are closed and are not providing traditional in-person instruction, education must continue,” the new guidelines read. OSPI noted that since offering its initial guidance, the governor ordered all schools in the state to close for six weeks, changing the state's long-term outlook. “We have an obligation to our students to provide them with opportunities to continue their learning during this pandemic. If they haven’t already begun, districts should be building their capacity to provide equitable services during school closures.”

The guidance encourages flexible instruction and communication with families and students. It includes few requirements about what instruction should look like.

Last week, the Blaine school district was working on providing optional educational opportunities. Blaine superintendent Christopher Granger said in a letter that the district wanted children to work on “refreshing, reviewing, and retaining what they know.”

Reached the morning after new guidelines came out, Granger said the district will take a wide-ranging approach to instruction. That could include sending paper packets or tablet computers to students for a combination of online learning and materials sent back and forth from students to teachers.

“We have areas where reception and access to internet is going to be a challenge. There are areas where even a cellphone doesn’t work, so we can’t ensure that everyone can do online learning in a reliable manner,” he said. “We want to make sure we take those things into account.”

The district is working on getting information from families about their needs for Wi-Fi devices, he said. Granger expects more guidelines to come from the state and said the district is ready for anything at this point.

“First and foremost, we care about kids and we’re always going to do what’s best for students,” he said. “We’re going to make sure they get best education possible during a very unique situation that their kids are going to learn about in history books."

Washington governor Jay Inslee's directive to close schools requires school districts to provide childcare to healthcare workers, first responders and some other essential workers. Granger said the district plans to have some form of childcare for a small group ready by early next week. The district had an enrollment day for those critical workers on March 23 and was collecting more information on its website, Blainesd.org, on March 24.

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