Distance Learning Plans May Begin April 6 for Area Students

by Elizabeth Pitts-Hibbard
Central High cafeteria workers prepare breakfast and lunch for area students to pick up while school is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Central High cafeteria workers prepare breakfast and lunch for area students to pick up while school is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister announced on Monday that she will propose a plan for distance learning for all Oklahoma public school students to begin April 6. School districts have been closed to any instruction since March 16.

The Continuous Learning Plan will be presented to the State Board of Education at a special meeting on Wednesday, March 25. Hofmeister said that the plan ensures that the education process will resume via distance learning, but will not include any traditional in-person instruction or extracurricular activities.

The announcement comes a few days after Hofmeister secured federal waivers that allowed the Oklahoma State Department of Education to suspend state standardized educational testing and Oklahoma School Report Cards for the semester, as well as permitted delivery and curb-side pickup of meals for students.

"Our districts have begun planning their alternative delivery methods to support student learning as they prepare to reconnect students with their teachers in adaptive ways,” she said.

“We are determined to support our Pre-K through high school students as well as English learners, special education students and those who need reinforced skills or additional enrichment. We recognize this reality will present challenges for many families and districts, but these are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary measures. This coordinated, swift and thoughtful action will help safeguard the health and well-being of our communities, students and professionals in public schools. We must do absolutely everything in our power to reduce transmission of coronavirus.”

Marlow Public Schools Superintendent George Coffman said on Tuesday that the administration was working on a multi-faceted plan for distance learning for Marlow Public Schools students. “We’re in the plan development stage right now,” he said. “We’re going to provide the best education we can for the students in our district.”

Coffman was quick to point out that the district cannot implement a plan without more specifics from the State level. “Right now we’re just waiting until the meeting on Wednesday to hear what’s confirmed and not confirmed,” he said. “This situation is fluid.”

Hofmeister’s announcement said that her proposed plan means that districts would implement distance learning on April 6, but that each district will implement it according to their capacity and the needs of their communities. The districts must assure the Oklahoma State Department of Education that not only do they have a plan for their students, but it must also include special services for English learners and special education students.

“I have faith in the commitment, innovation and creativity of Oklahoma educators and administrators,” Hofmeister said. “Many districts across our state have utilized online instruction already and likely will be able to hit the ground running. Other districts have significant technology limitations, while some might opt for instructional materials delivered to students. There will be a wide range of approaches and it will be far from ideal, but necessary as we embrace these changes and even sacrifice to protect the public health of our communities.”

Hofmeister also said that the Department of Education is pursuing federal assistance to increase digital connectivity for some districts.

Concerns regarding high school seniors are at the forefront of many community members and district administrators. Hofmeister said that seniors who are on track to graduate should be a top priority for districts, and that their graduation status should not be negatively impacted by school closures.