10 steps for establishing distance learning programs

Actions to take when reassessing online learning as school closures continue
By: | April 21, 2020
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With school closures now being long-term, it’s important to reassess distance learning programs to ensure their effectiveness. Gretchen Shipley, partner and chair of the eMatters Practice Group at Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost LLP, offers the following 10 steps to take:

1. Assess existing and required resources.

Look at the hardware, software, and connectivity available, and identify what else may be necessary to address the “whole spectrum” of distance learning, which stretches from live online instruction to providing packets of educational materials for students to take home.

2. Inquire about accessibility.

It is legal and acceptable to ask about accessibility in the home. Officials should assess if students have devices and access to the internet. In California, state law prohibits schools from requiring families to purchase internet access or devices; in that case, districts may need to spend resources to provide access to all students at home.

3. Procure what you need.

Typically when making purchases, districts must go through a “fair and competitive process” for bidding. However, the emergency procurement process allows purchase of emergency resources. The school business team should review contracts for compliance with data privacy laws and other rules and regulations, as well as term length and need for insurance.

4. Develop a flexible educational program.

This should account for the spectrum of educational methods. As time goes by, it is expected that school districts will be able to ramp up their efforts to deliver distance learning.

5. Identify the curriculum to be used.

Officials should work with the instructional and development team and ensure that the content meets the required standards as well as data privacy regulations. If a state requires a specific curriculum be used, local educational agencies keep records to track materials and instructional time.

6. Consider modifications as necessary.

Districts must consider how to adapt the program to ensure access to economically disadvantaged students, English learners, and students with disabilities.

7. Provide training to staff, parents, and students.

Districts must educate all stakeholders in the use of the online educational tools. Some districts may have collective bargaining concerns with staff; in those cases, human resources should be involved.

8. Communicate the distance learning plan and expectations to the community.

9. Deploy resources.

Districts should have a recordkeeping process when distributing devices, tracking serial numbers, and the condition of devices when assigned and returned. LEAs have an agreement of expectations of use or a policy that governs the use of devices for staff and students. Work with the county health department to identify the safety considerations necessary when distributing devices or materials, including gloves, masks, and disinfecting wipes.

10. Maintain information technology support for staff and students.

Ensure the IT team is aware of new or increased cyberattacks and continue to provide a safe learning environment.

Charles Hendrix covers education funding and other Title I issues for ESEA Now, a DA sister publication.

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