Distance Learning Begins Monday. What’s The Plan?

Students across Alabama will complete the 2019-2020 school year from home. (Source: Jorge Gautier)

The buildings are closed, but Jefferson County Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin says the school district will be open for business Monday.

“This is not going to be traditional school, but we remain steadfast in our mission,” Gonsoulin said in a video message. “Educating students will continue.”

In response to the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Kay Ivey originally ordered Alabama K-12 schools to close for two and a half weeks beginning March 19. Last week, Ivey announced they would remain closed through the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Schools are supposed to begin distance learning Monday.

Gonsoulin said Jefferson County students should expect to receive instructions about specific learning plans from individual schools. Grading criteria will vary for students in different grade levels. Distance learning will include online materials and educational software.

He said students who do not have a computer or internet access will receive hard copies of work packets. Jefferson County teachers are required to be available three hours daily, Monday through Friday, to offer virtual office hours for parents and students. The school year will finish for students May 28.

Gonsoulin says this is an especially challenging time for graduating seniors, but teachers will work with students to make sure they complete all requirements and get their diplomas.

“Our graduation ceremonies might be later than normal or look different in nature,” he said. “But we will find a way to honor your accomplishments.”

Gonsoulin said the transition has been “very difficult” and school officials are still working out many details.

Birmingham City Schools officials said the system it will begin its “remote learning plan” next week. Teachers will reach out to parents and students during this time to discuss specific details. Remote instruction will officially begin April 13 and continue through May 28.

Students in Shelby County Schools will begin distance learning Monday and continue through May 21. Superintendent Lewis Brooks said the curriculum will be centered on meeting specific state standards.

“Teaching and learning will focus mostly on the four core subjects of English language arts (reading and writing), math, science and social studies,” Brooks said in a video.

He said elective course teachers will provide “enrichment activities” for students.

Officials with many school systems, including Shelby County and Birmingham city, said they will continue to offer free meals to students at daily pick-up sites next week.

Jefferson County Schools had been providing meals to students since schools were first closed in March, but that service stopped after Friday. Gonsoulin said more than 400 employees volunteered to prepare and deliver meals, but it was difficult to maintain social distancing protocols. He said system officials are working to connect parents to other programs that can offer food by Tuesday.

“We are turning toward organizations that are set up better to do that,” Gonsoulin said Friday.

Roughly half of Jefferson County Schools students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.