Voluntary learning considered for extended school closure

Voluntary learning being considered

T-R file photo Marshalltown School District officials announced the cancellation of class for students from Monday to Friday in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Read more online at www.timesrepublican.com on Tuesday morning.)

The Marshalltown Community School District closure will extend to April 30, and plans are being made on how to continue student education.

At the regular Monday Marshalltown Community School Board meeting, Lisa Stevenson, the director of instruction for the district, presented a plan on how to continue education for students during the closure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stevenson said the challenge is quickly implementing the system to provide ongoing voluntary education for 5,000 students while providing meaningful lessons.

The Iowa Department of Education has given public school districts a Friday deadline on whether or not continuous learning will be pursued and how. The plan needs to cover education between Friday and April 30.

“I wanted to remind you that because they are voluntary, students won’t be given grades,” Stevenson told the board.

Stevenson said a lot of work will have to be done in the next few days to get the voluntary system ready to go. Some of the work will be providing paper packets of online instruction.

However, district employees will lose a day of work since this Friday is also Good Friday and is a holiday. Stevenson said packets will more likely be provided on Tuesday because of the loss of a day. Plans are being formed on the best way to get those packets to students.

Board member Mike Miller asked what the reality would look like in a month when a teacher is faced with some students who have done voluntary learning and some have not.

“When we come back to school, where does the teacher pick up in their curriculum or education,” he asked.

Stevenson said that is a realistic scenario and will be a challenge. She said it goes back to the district’s mission on personalized learning and teachers will have to be more skilled on how to present lessons.

Credits necessary for graduation from high school has been a common topic of discussion amongst Stevenson, superintendent Theron Schutte and the Marshalltown High School principals.

“We’re going to do everything in our power to ensure students who were on track for graduation don’t lose that opportunity,” Stevenson said.

Lots of challenges

She said after Reynolds’ Thursday recommendation, educators were told via a virtual meeting, about education options for public school districts – no continuous education, voluntary or required educational services. Stevenson said not providing continuous education is not something the district is interested in.

“In order to make the best decision for Marshalltown – over 5,000 students – we have to think about a lot of things,” she said.

Surveys of parents have been sent out to help determine the learning environment of students.

“We recognize there’s lots of challenges for our students,” she said. “The five top things that came to mind are if students have access to an adult at home that can support new learning. They have struggled with access to reliable high-speed internet that is not connected to a telephone. They have challenges with access to a computer, laptop or other device. Many students have challenges accessing learning material that has not been modified or accommodated in its presentation that would be in particular our students with disabilities and also many of our students have challenges accessing materials because they are still English language learners.”

The district announced the extended closure early Monday afternoon prior to the board meeting.

“While we are disappointed knowing that it will be several more weeks before we see our students, the safety of our community and state comes first,” Schutte said before the meeting.

“One thing is for certain, however, we are all in this together and we will seek answers that make sense given these unprecedented times,” he said. “I’m committed to ensuring that every student in the Marshalltown Community School District receives the education that she or he deserves. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if your have any questions.”

Contact Lana Bradstream at lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.


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