As schools were closed across the Commonwealth in early March due to COVID-19, public school districts, charter schools, private schools, and parochial schools were faced with the immediate challenge of understanding existing public and operational policy that would help shape and define an operational response to the provision of meaningful, standards-based education. Districts and schools grappled with how to protect their staff, teachers, and students, while continuing to offer instruction. Some schools were prepared to shift immediately to remote learning, others rapidly developed new plans that they acknowledged would evolve over time, and some were simply caught off-guard. Even within southwestern Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh metropolitan region, the extraordinary range of preparedness and readiness at the district and school level became very apparent in the first week following the closure of schools. Issues that surfaced, many of which are directly tied to access and equity, include:
- Student access to devices and the internet
- The ability to reach students and families to determine needs
- Digital fluency of teachers
- The pre-existence of plans and capacity for flexible or remote instruction
- The ability to serve students with IEPs, 504 plans, or other special education needs
There is no doubt that the public health crisis brought on by SARS-CoV-2 And COVID-19 will have monumentally negative impacts in all facets of our society. Within the education system specifically, the achievement gaps are likely to deepen across schools and districts, and across children within the same district. Yet, the crisis may also present opportunities to build and bolster earning environments that are more flexible and responsive, both during a crisis and during periods of normal instruction. The Institute of Politics proposes to write a white paper on the types of public policy, operational policy, and cultural ethos that enabled schools to respond rapidly and operate with a high degree of flexibility and preparedness offering continuity in education and student engagement in the face of crisis.
By examining both best practices as well as the policy barriers that prevented school districts from acting quickly, the IOP intends to identify policy solutions that will support lasting nimbleness and capacity in all schools. Specifically, the paper will use information gathered through research and interviews with school administrators, policymakers, and other key personnel to make recommendations for policy change at the state, local, and building levels.
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