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Inslee’s decision to keep schools closed forces districts to boost online learning and finalize plans for promoting students

In a Sunday, March 15, 2020 photo, Jan McGowan, left, and Heather Miciak video chat with another teacher at Regal Elementary School as they create labels containing student login information for a digital program called Clever, which allows students access to educational resources. But last week at Regal, only 49 percent of students logged on to the program. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

Spring break has just begun, but there will be little respite for educators after Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision Monday to close schools through the rest of the academic year.

Local school officials saw this coming but now must redouble efforts to improve “distance learning” for all students while working through a myriad of issues, including class credits, graduation requirements and special education.

However, Spokane Public Schools and neighboring districts already have laid some of that groundwork to deal with a severely curtailed second semester.

With Inslee’s announcement to keep schools closed through summer, in-school instruction this semester will total 35 days out of a possible 90.

“We know it was a possibility so we have been working on this,” Spokane Superintendent Shelley Redinger said Monday afternoon after hearing Inslee’s decision to close schools in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would just say that everyone just needs to breathe and not to get overwhelmed,” Redinger said. “With everything so different now that’s very easy to do, but we all have to keep moving forward.”

Schools throughout the state have been closed since March 17. Barring a sudden downturn in the coronavirus threat, buildings won’t be open to students until at least September.

Even then, Inslee couldn’t guarantee that some classes wouldn’t be conducted online.

In the meantime, local districts have distributed laptops and worked with internet providers to improve connectivity for families who need it.

Teachers throughout the state are off during spring break but will get more direction next week from their districts and the state superintendent’s office.

Last week, the Spokane school board gave informal approval for staff members to communicate with high school principals and counselors.

In turn, they will meet with students, in particular middle school and high school students and their families to explain their options as they continue to take their classes online. Pending final board approval, they include three options for each course.

  • Select to receive a pass/fail grade on their high school transcript, for those who don’t want to negatively affect their grade-point average;
  • Opt to receive a letter grade in hopes of improving their GPA;
  • Request a credit waiver from the school principal.

Another vexing issue is special education, in which many students struggle without face-to-face instruction. Redinger hopes that some one-on-one help will be approved within the constraints of social-distancing guidelines.

At the Central Valley School District, Superintendent Ben Small reacted to Inslee’s decision with a promise to “continue our efforts to improve virtual face-to-face classroom meetings and teacher-to-student engagement.”

“We acknowledge concerns that others have experienced with Zoom meetings and will have a secure platform in place after Spring Break,” Small said in a statement issued Monday night.

Likewise, Mead Superintendent Shawn Woodard said the district has checked out hundreds of Chromebooks and expects to further define distance learning at the end of the week.