Senate approves local control of at-home learning plans

 

STATE HOUSE – When Sen. Roger A. Picard sponsored legislation enacted in 2017 to enable school districts to use at-home learning days to make up missed school days, he had no way of knowing that three years later, a global pandemic would force schools in Rhode Island and around the world to go virtual for the better part of a year.

Now, as schools wrap up and reflect on the experiences of virtual learning in 2020 and 2021, the Senate today passed legislation sponsored by Senator Picard to hand over control of virtual learning plans to the local school districts.

“After 2020 and 2021, all our school districts now have ample experience handling at-home learning. They know what worked and what didn’t in their own schools and with their students. Even though virtual learning for such a long time was challenging and certainly not ideal, overall, districts succeeded at delivering education to students at home. They’ve shown they can do this for more than a year, so no doubt they can handle it for short-term needs in the future,” said Senator Picard (D-Dist. 20, Woonsocket, Cumberland).

Under the bill passed in 2017, any school district that wishes to have the option to replace a school day missed due to inclement weather or another emergency has to submit detailed plans to provide students with at-home learning. All such plans need to be submitted to and approved by the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education in order for the district to count any at-home learning day as a school day.

When all schools were forced to go virtual in 2020, the state required them to prepare and submit their plans in a matter of days.

Under Senator Picard’s legislation (2021-S 0151), school districts would submit their at-home learning plans to their local school committee for approval instead. Under the bill, no more than five days of the 180-day school year could be replaced by at-home learning days. Just like the current law, the bill is enabling legislation, meaning it would be up to each district to decide whether to use at-home learning days at all, and development of a plan would remain optional.

Part of the reason for the bill, said Senator Picard, is that the Department of Education’s standards and approval process for at-home learning are complicated and discouraged districts from using the option until the pandemic forced them.

But local control has long been a hallmark of Rhode Island’s public education system, and Senator Picard said allowing local control of this approval process will make it a more usable tool for them.

“At-home learning days can be a useful tool for schools. Something like a roof problem, a fire or an unusually large blizzard can shut down school for several days at a time. Days tacked on the end of the school year, when students and teachers are sweating in schools that are generally not air conditioned, sometimes don’t provide the best conditions for concentration and learning. At-home learning is one more option, and making it easier to use will help districts ensure that they are delivering on their promise to provide education,” said Senator Picard.

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives. 

 

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