Far from traditional learning: A clearer picture of what schools will look like in the fall

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Whenever school starts this fall, there is a big chance it will look far different from what we are used to.

The decision over how to reopen schools will have a profound impact on the more than 2 million parents and their children across Washington state.

On Tuesday morning, more than 200 minds got together online with some intense pressures to provide guidelines for school districts by Monday.

It is the second time for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to hold the large working group.

Although there were 7 different models discussed up to this point, models 3 and 5 are getting the most attention.

Model 3 depicts a split or rotating schedule. It means students could possibly have 1 to 2 days of learning in the classroom every week but the rest is online distance learning.

Model 5 is the phased-in learning approach, and in this case students could go one week inside the classroom for about 4 hours per day and then have the other week off.

“Districts need to plan on some type of hybrid model,” Michaela Miller with OSPI said.

If that becomes our new normal this fall, the disruptions will be a big one for all families. It could impact double-income households that will have to decide if one parent has to walk away from their job. It will also be especially hard for special needs kids and low income families.

The racial disparities already in place could grow even more. Those challenges are not lost on the state and those in the work group. They are considering extra ways to support children with extra needs.

“The events we are living through right now has made it explicitly crystal clear the inequities we have and the work we need to do address those,” Martin Mueller with OSPI said.

OSPI is scrambling to create more childcare resources to fill the major gaps if we have to go into the hybrid models.

They are also finding ways to improve online learning looking at countries like South Korea, which has widespread WiFi connectivity and technology for all students.

"Our school systems thus far this spring have done a phenomenal job of increasing capacity getting both devices and connectivity built up,” Miller said.

But Miller says there is still a long way to go.

“I will just say this can’t be done by the educational sector alone. It has to be a broader conversation, philanthropic conversation likely policymakers need to be involved,” Miller said.

Once OSPI releases its guidelines on June 8, it will be left up to school districts to pick a system that works best for them. Districts will be reaching out to parents to weigh in.

By Tuesday evening, the largest school district in the state sent an email to parents listing the re-entry scenarios being discussed.

The first scenario posed by Seattle School District is to have grades PreK-5 attend school in person full-time while students in higher grades alternate from in-person learning to remote learning.

Another model is to have all students do a split schedules, which includes in-person learning and remote lessons.

The third is to have 100% remote learning.

In the letter, the district said they understand the frustration families would feel if kids had to continue remote learning, but at the same time they acknowledged those who may fear coming back to school due to the virus.

The district says they will announce their decision sometime before students depart for summer on June 19.

Although many educators would like to go back to the traditional form of learning, OSPI says they have to listen to health experts. At this moment they say the situation with COVID-19 calls for a hybrid model.

OSPI says every school district will have to pay attention to model 7.

That one calls for 100% remote learning.  OSPI says even if kids are back to school in some capacity every district needs to have a plan to shut down schools in case a second wave of the virus leads to a surge in COVID-19 cases.