Some districts ending school year early over distance learning challenges

At the onset of remote learning in March, the Bibb County School District, more than an hour south of Atlanta, sought feedback from teachers, students and parents on what challenges, if any, they were facing.

The district used the crowdsourcing tool ThoughtExchange to hear from teachers and administrators and the app Let’s Talk to solicit responses from parents and students, said Curtis Jones Jr., superintendent of the Bibb County district. Between the two tools, more than 10,000 thoughts were shared that were used for evaluation by the district.

“The number one thought was: We were stressed,” Jones said in a phone interview Thursday.

After consulting with the Bibb County Board of Education, the district, like others in parts of Georgia, as well as in Washington, D.C. and Nebraska, responded by announcing it planned to end the academic school year early. School is out for the more than 21,000 students in the school district Friday — three weeks early.

Jones himself has been learning remotely — about the community.

“I heard complaints from teachers that they were trying to teach their students, they were trying to help their own children and manage the home,” he said.

Others reported they were experiencing financial strain as their households had gone from having two incomes to one or none.

Some in the district also lacked the technology to get online, or said they had one computer to share among multiple children. Jones said 3,400 electronic devices were distributed to students. About 750 WiFi hot spots were also set up in Macon for the several hundred students who said they did not have internet access.

In Georgia and other states, Jones said, most districts have waivers from state rules that mandate how many days a school must remain open. The Bibb County School District for example, will not be faulted for not meeting its 179-day mandate, he said.

At least 20 school districts and state charter schools are ending early, according to Meghan Frick, the Georgia Department of Education director of communications.

Henry County Schools, a public school district in McDonough, Georgia, that has more than 40,000 students, is ending school weeks earlier than planned — May 8 for seniors and May 15 for other grades.

Omaha Public Schools announced this week the final day for all students has been moved from May 22 to May 15.

Summer vacation will also begin three weeks early for students in Washington, D.C. public schools, which will close May 29. The district’s public charter schools will end their school year on or around that day, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

The mayor has said there are students with whom the school district has had no contact since school buildings closed.

“This calendar shift will give us the opportunity to preserve time for the option of additional, targeted summer learning, as well as the start of the 2020-2021 school year when health conditions are more favorable,” the district said in a statement.

Students are expected engage directly with their teachers on weekly activities based on new material from the curriculum. The district said that given the various challenges students are facing, it recognizes there may be periods of time when some children may be unable to participate in learning at home. Teachers will be responsive to this by ensuring that students can participate by accessing recorded lessons as opposed to only participating in a live virtual lesson with their class, the district said.