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Some districts are ending the school year early over challenges with distance learning

"I heard complaints from teachers that they were trying to teach their students, they were trying to help their own children and manage the home," said a school superintendent in Georgia.
Image: Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in San Francisco
School buses parked at First Student Charter Bus Rental as the spread of the coronavirus continues in San Francisco on April 7, 2020.Stephen Lam / Reuters file

At the onset of remote learning in March, the Bibb County School District, more than an hour south of Atlanta, sought feedback from teachers, students and parents on what challenges, if any, they were facing.

The district used the crowdsourcing tool ThoughtExchange to hear from teachers and administrators and the app Let's Talk to solicit responses from parents and students, Superintendent Curtis Jones Jr. said. Between the two tools, more than 10,000 thoughts were shared that were used for evaluation by the district.

"The No. 1 thought was: We were stressed," Jones said in a phone interview Thursday.

After consulting with the Bibb County Board of Education, the district, like others in parts of Georgia, as well as in Washington, D.C., and Nebraska, responded by announcing it planned to end the academic year early. School is out for the more than 21,000 students in the school district Friday — three weeks early.

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Jones himself has been learning remotely — about the community.

"I heard complaints from teachers that they were trying to teach their students, they were trying to help their own children and manage the home," he said.

Others reported that they were experiencing financial strain because of the coronavirus as their households had gone from having two incomes to one or none.

Some in the district also lacked the technology to get online or said they had one computer to share among multiple children. Jones said 3,400 electronic devices were distributed to students. About 750 Wi-Fi hot spots were also set up in Macon for the several hundred students who said they did not have internet access.

In Georgia and other states, Jones said, most districts have waivers from state rules that mandate how many days a school must remain open. The Bibb County School District for example, will not be faulted for not meeting its 179-day mandate, he said.

Meghan Frick, communications director for the state Education Department, said at least 20 school districts and state charter schools are ending early.

Henry County Schools, a public school district in McDonough, Georgia, that has more than 40,000 students, is ending school weeks earlier than planned — May 8 for seniors and May 15 for other grades.

Omaha Public Schools in Nebraska announced this week that the final day for all students has been moved from May 22 to May 15.

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Summer vacation will begin three weeks early for students in Washington, D.C., public schools, which will close May 29. The district's public charter schools will end their school year on or around that day, Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

"This calendar shift will give us the opportunity to preserve time for the option of additional, targeted summer learning, as well as the start of the 2020-2021 school year when health conditions are more favorable," the district said in a statement.

The mayor has said there are students with whom the school district has had no contact since school buildings closed. Shayne Wells, the spokesman for D.C. Public Schools, said Thursday that 96 percent of all students have been engaged with remote learning since it began March 24. The district has lent 6,500 devices to students and is distributing 10,000 mobile hot spots to families who need access to high-speed internet while school buildings are closed. They expect those numbers to climb as distribution continues this week.

Students are expected to engage directly with their teachers on weekly activities based on new material from the curriculum. The district said that given the various challenges students are facing, it recognizes that there may be periods when some children may be unable to participate in learning at home. Teachers will be responsive by ensuring that students can participate by accessing recorded lessons, as opposed to only participating in a live virtual lesson with their class, the district said.