MT. PLEASANT — The Mt. Pleasant Community School District Board of Education voted on Tuesday afternoon to provide students with voluntary educational enrichment opportunities through the scheduled April 30 school closures.
The board met in a special session to consider and approve the district’s plans to support student education through the coronavirus outbreak.
Superintendent John Henriksen explained to the board the Iowa Department of Education (DE) has provided districts three options; districts could either provide no opportunities, which would make districts responsible for making up lost hours later in the year, provide voluntary educational opportunities or provide required educational services. Districts across the state are given until April 10 to provide the department a decision or plan moving forward.
In accordance with the DE, voluntary opportunities would mean “no grading or credit is given” for work and participation is not required. When schools resume, teachers would be picking up where they left off in mid-March.
Required educational services would mean transferring classes for students to an online format and would need to ensure “academic work is equivalent in effort and rigor to typical classroom work.”
Director of Instruction, Kathleen Gavin, explained this would mean students, who are typically receiving 6.5 hours of instruction a day, would be given work equivalent to the time they usually spend in a classroom.
Henriksen also noted if the district were not to provide any opportunities during the closures, students and teachers would be required to stay in school through the second or third week of June.
The superintendent also outlined the district’s goals through the closure, which aims to maintain connections with students and families, gain an understanding of where students are at in terms of content and minimize learning loss for the following school year.
Currently, teachers within the district are already in the process of providing voluntary opportunities. Gavin explained that would include providing three continuous learning opportunities per week. For elementary students, there will be a focus on reading and math through the iReady program. Instructors for middle school and high school students will be provided opportunities through Canvas to provide material focused on review, practice, mastery and enrichment.
Henriksen, reviewing the district’s learning continuity readiness against a rubric from the Wisconsin Digital Learning Collaborative, noted Mt. Pleasant currently lacks some of the digital infrastructure and technology access to fully implement required online learning.
“Do I think we can support, going forward at some juncture, an online environment where we can meet all of these [criteria], where families have a choice to participate in that kind of learning? I absolutely do. Do I think it’s fair to families, given the circumstance and given what they may be dealing with on the home side of this. Do I think it’s fair to say to them you are now required to participate in this kind of online learning? No, I don’t think that’s fair,” Henriksen said.
Gavin added the district is making strides to connect with all students and have received almost 40 device requests from families. School buildings across the district have also extended Wi-Fi access to their parking lots to make that resource available to students as well.
The district’s board discussed several options, including potentially providing voluntary opportunities for certain grade levels while providing required educational services to others. Concerns around the level of student participation in voluntary opportunities was also brought up. Board members Josh Maher and Chuck Andrew noted they would be interested in seeing data on student participation during the closures.
Several board members brought up concerns surrounding equity issues if the district were to require online learning. In an internet access survey, the district found a quarter of students and families who responded did not have access to high speed internet.
“We’re just not in a position with enough kiddos that have access to broadband internet to do required,” board member Kevin Sandersfeld said.
In discussing the possibility of not providing any opportunities, board President Jennifer Crull also noted requiring students and teachers to stay through mid-June may not be optimal.
“I don’t think [students] will be learning or doing their best at that point in time,” Crull said.
Ultimately, the board voted unanimously to provide voluntary learning opportunities for students through the April 30 closures.