By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey on Sunday said that schools should make “every effort” to provide meals for all children who need them, no matter their families’ income status, during the school closures due to the new coronavirus.
Mackey wrote to school administrators and educators in a letter detailing what protocols should be followed to ensure children’s safety and providing ideas on how to continue learning during the three weeks all Alabama K-12 public schools are to be closed.
“This is an unprecedented event in our lifetime,” Mackey wrote. “This public health emergency is evolving rapidly, and we will continue to inform you as quickly as information becomes available.”
Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday announced that all public schools will be closed after Wednesday March 18 with the goal of reopening on Monday, April 6. Some schools have decided to close starting today.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved Alabama’s waiver to provide meals in non-congregated settings and Mackey said in the letter that children can receive meals no matter their income level or status in the free and reduced lunch program.
The letter did not go into detail of how food was to be distributed but said each community should do what works best for them while also practicing social distancing.
Mackey said the schools that wish to participate must follow the Summer Food Service Program, the Seamless Summer Options or complete an application to be a Summer Food Service Program provider. The Alabama State Department of Education is processing applications and Mackey said they will provide additional guidance following USDA correspondence today.
Mackey also said the U.S. Department of Education will provide waivers for standardized testing that had been planned soon.
The letter also says school districts have “full autonomy to provide continuous learning opportunities” during the closure but that they should align with those used during summer breaks or other school calendar breaks.
“Consider this situation similar to assisting with the prevention of the ‘summer slide,’” Mackey said.
Mackey suggested utilizing e-learning with platforms such as Google Classroom or a Learning Management System. He also suggests providing hard copy learning materials along with a digital option to increase access options for families.
Mackey said that before April 6, ALSDE will convene a small task force to consider varying levels of capacity across the state to reopen schools without physically requiring student to report to districts.
The ALSDE Office of Student Learning has developed optional “Distance Learning Resource” platform that assists school districts with planning efforts to provide instructional opportunities for grades K-12.
Mackey also lists a few additional ideas for K-12 learning:
- Send library books home with students and/or print out articles, poetry, and writing prompts;
- Assign a long-term research-based project aligned to multiple standards;
- Put together learning packets to review or enhance material already taught;
- Print and upload supplemental lessons and additional practice in subject and skill areas that have not been mastered;
- Have students write reflection essays about a movie watched or a book read and scaffold the assignment for different age ranges;
- Assign journal writing about this real-world learning experience. Have students write about their experiences, their feelings and draw conclusions or inferences based on their experiences.
Graduation is still an “important priority” the letter says, and each school should review the status of each senior to determine their requirements needed to graduate. Mackey says each school needs to have a plan to help each student complete their requirements during the closure period and also if classes resume.
Additional information is to be provided by the department if the closure situation changes with regards to graduation.
School districts are also required to provide students with disabilities special education services, the letter reads. It says teachers should consult with parents or caregivers about the most appropriate means for reaching those needs.
Ivey announced on Sunday that certain government employees should consider implementing telework or flexible work schedules. Mackey says each school district should determine based on their specific needs what the best staffing decision is for them.
As of Sunday evening, there are 22 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, according the State Department of Public Health website.
Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath and can appear two to 14 days after exposure. The ADPH has said that people who believe they have the virus should first call their primary care physicians. The state is working to set up screening centers where more people can be tested.
If you do not have a primary care physician but are concerned that you have symptoms of COVID-19 you can call the ADPH hotline at 1-888-264-2256 with your questions.