Northshore School District relaunches online learning program after pausing due to equity issues

(Northshore School District Photo)

The Northshore School District, located north of Seattle, plans to relaunch its online learning platform after pausing the initial program earlier this month due to equity issues.

According to an email to parents sent Thursday afternoon from Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid, the new plan — Dubbed Northshore Learns v. 2.0 — is a much more structured and standardized approach to online learning, outlining specific class schedules across all schools at all grade levels in the district.

It’s a departure from the original program that allowed each teacher to take full control of their class schedules and enabled them to deliver their own instruction in any way they chose. While teachers will still be given flexibility with how they teach, the district hopes the standardized schedule will help alleviate the concerns of many parents who struggled with the inconsistencies inherent in the first version.

“A consistent, predictable instructional schedule not only enables educators to support their own families and ensure their own health and wellness but also supports students’ families as they consider how to support their students’ learning in the home environment,” said Reid.

Districts across the country are grappling with how to continue remote education amid school closures due to the COVID-19 outbreak. NPR this week called it the “biggest distance-learning experiment in history.”

Reid said Northshore’s original program was only expected to last two weeks. But a new mandate from the state that keeps all schools closed through April 24 forced the district to rethink how it could provide online learning for an extended time in a way that was equitable for all students.

The schedule switches explicit instruction to three days a week, offering the other two days for teachers to hold office hours to connect with students one-on-one and further their own educational development as necessary. Each core content area will receive one class a week, though teachers may assign projects to be completed until that class or specialty area meets again. Each class day will feature 90 minutes of instruction in core classes, with additional time for specialty classes and electives.

Reid also said the new program takes into account guidance from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction that offered districts flexibility in the delivery of special education services. The inability of the district to provide equitable special education services was one of the challenges the district mentioned when it decided to stop its initial program. In order to alleviate this, the new Northshore program has built in time for the delivery of special education services to the extent that they can be delivered virtually, recognizing that some services will need to change in order to fit an online model.

“We, along with all other educators in Washington State and our nation, are facing an unprecedented situation. Due to the closure of our school buildings, we can no longer think about school in the way we are accustomed,” said Reid. “Equitable learning experiences will be our goal, but given the fact we are in the midst of a global pandemic, there may be factors that limit our ability to guarantee the same quality of education Northshore aspires to deliver.”

Teachers will be finalizing details Friday and the program will begin rolling out on Monday, which is the deadline for all state schools to implement some sort of distance learning plans, as mandated by state education officials earlier this week.

Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau said last week that her district would not transition to online learning, citing equity issues and because “educators can’t just switch to online teaching overnight,” she said on Twitter.

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