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Decatur School Board votes to end school year early

COVID-19 Decatur Metro ATL

Decatur School Board votes to end school year early

Talley Street Upper Elementary, 2617 Talley Street.
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This story has been updated. 

By Sara Amis, contributor

Decatur, GA – At the April 14 School Board meeting, City Schools of Decatur Superintendent David Dude proposed that the school year be shortened by one additional week.

Decatur schools and schools everywhere else are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new dates for the last day of school will be May 15 for high school seniors and May 22 for other students. The original last day of school would have been May 29, 2020. Teacher workdays will not change but may be converted to professional learning days.

Board member James Herndon said, “Based on my e-mails, we have two extremes: either parents will be very excited to have the school year-end or they really appreciate the e-mails teachers are sending them every day telling them how to fill their children’s time.”

For the latter, Herndon suggested that CSD offer more summer enrichment starting immediately after school ends.

Normal summer enrichment programs such as summer camp are being canceled, leading several board members to point out that summer enrichment from the school system will be more important.

“We can come up with beefed-up resources week-by-week for parents to use,” School Board Vice-Chair Tasha White said.

Board member Heather Tell was hesitant to shorten the school year any further.

“Our academic year has already been impacted and we’re already talking about having a lot of catch up to do in the fall,” Tell said.

Board member Jana Johnson-Davis felt that the time would be better used on planning and professional development for teachers now, in the hope that regular classes can resume in the fall.

The motion passed with Tell opposing and Herndon abstaining.

Dude acknowledged Herndon and Tell’s concerns, saying, “It’s going to have to be family-directed, but we can certainly double down on our efforts to provide enrichment and support over the summer.”

“Do we want to take the professional development out of days next year when we are going to really need those days, or do we want to cut the losses and take them out of time this year? It’s a balance, and it’s complicated,” said Dude.

Meanwhile, CSD is adjusting expectations in order to adapt to the ongoing situation.  According to Dr. Kristy Beam, principal at Glennwood Elementary, teachers are being encouraged to simplify requirements and be sensitive to social and emotional needs, while finding ways to interact with their students on a regular basis. About twenty substitute teachers are being offered work three days a week, including being available to help parents cope with the challenges of supervising their children’s education.

On the topic of grading, Beam says that “Children cannot be penalized for this situation.  We are still having school, and holding students accountable, but they will be held harmless.”

Students will still receive school work, they will continue to be assessed, and they will still receive feedback from their teachers. Except for programs like International Baccalaureate which have other requirements and deadlines, all students will be evaluated on a Meets/Does Not Meet grade level expectation. Middle grades and up will receive progress reports based on work done before the March 12 school closure. Students who were failing at that time will be offered the opportunity to meet the minimum requirements.

Beam said that according to a survey, Decatur High School’s graduating seniors said they found a virtual acknowledgment of graduation acceptable, “but they made it clear that they want an in-person ceremony as soon as it becomes possible.” No date has been set, but having a ceremony during Homecoming Week or during Thanksgiving or Christmas break next fall is under discussion.

Dude said that Gov. Brian Kemp reached out to superintendents to ask what school systems’ needs are. “My guess is that the question came in anticipation of, what if this happens again? What are we learning from this experience?  My feedback was, let’s start treating the internet as a utility. We assume that gas and water and sewer and electricity are just absolutely essential to what we do, and I think now we can see and in an environment like this especially, that internet is the next thing.  What a great thing if we could be the first state that says yes, this is a utility, and every resident in this state needs to have a robust, active internet connection.”

“While we have some to deal with, we are very fortunate in Decatur. Our neighboring districts, it is on a whole other level.  While we are talking about getting 40 [internet] hot spots, they are talking about getting 6,000 hot spots,” Dude added.

Perhaps in acknowledgment of the difficulty of ensuring that students have access to digital learning, DeKalb County Schools is not issuing any progress reports and announced on their website that students would not be penalized for any missed assignments but would be allowed to make up assignments whenever school resumes, including next fall.

“Are we going to be opening normally in August?  That’s not entirely clear,” asked Board Chair Lewis Jones.

“We are very hopeful that people will respect the various orders to keep sheltering in place and we will continue to keep everything under control,” said Dude. “My worry would be that if we let up on these things too quickly and we have a resurgence that causes a secondary peak in cases and that does impact the start of the school year, which is why I really hope we stick with this as hard as it is.”

Dude said it’s a learning process for the school district.

“We will continue to learn best practices, what works and what doesn’t,” he said. “At some point though, there’s a reason why we aren’t an online learning environment. It’s not going to meet our standards no matter how well we learn to do it. We will continue to learn through the end of the year and if for some reason we have to do something virtual to start up the school year I feel confident we’ll be ready to do that, but let’s hope we’re not in that situation.”

UPDATE: A reader has asked what would happen to the College Heights 0 to 3 program during the summer. City Schools of Decatur addressed this in an email that went out to parents today.

“Guidance continues to evolve, and it is unclear at this time if we will be able to operate our 0-3 programs at College Heights and Frasier Center during the summer months,” the School District said.

Here is the full email sent to parents:

10 Words

The last day of the 2019-2020 school year is May 22 – for seniors, May 15.

100 Words

The Board of Education voted at their April 14 meeting to end the school year for seniors on May 15 and for all other students on May 22. Guidance continues to evolve and it is unclear at this time if we will be able to operate our 0-3 programs at College Heights and Frasier Center during the summer months. The Decatur High School community is evaluating options on how and when to commemorate our seniors’ graduation. Grading guidelines have been finalized please read below for additional details.

1,000+ Words 

Change to school year

At all grade levels, the month of May typically includes several days for large- scale assessments, such as GMAS and MAP, as well as numerous special events. With the elimination of such assessments and events this year, those days are no longer needed. Therefore, the administrative team proposed and the Board yesterday voted to approve the following changes to the academic calendar:

– The last day for seniors would move 5 days earlier, from May 22 to May 15.

– The last day for all other students would move 4 days earlier, from May 29 to May 22.

Although students’ school year will end sooner, staff will continue to work their full work calendar. For teachers, this means they will have about a week of additional time to close out their classrooms for the current year, prepare materials for their next teaching assignment, and participate in essential professional learning that was deferred by the current disruption. Additionally, staff will spend the time to reflect on what did and did not work well with remote learning: this will help us better serve students in the event of a future long-term closure.

The Department of Curriculum and Instruction will lead efforts to create a webpage for independent enrichment activities. We will add self-directed summer activities and reading lists to the enrichment resources page. As soon as next week, you can look to this page for enrichment activities, and additional summer enrichment activities will be posted as they are developed. Self-directed enrichment activities will not impact grades or placement for the upcoming school year.

And in the meantime…

Meal service

Due to diminished demand, we will change meal distributions to be 3 times per week: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with extra meals being sent home Mondays and Wednesdays to cover the days we aren’t serving. We tentatively plan to transition to this plan on April 20. We plan to continue meal service until the (revised) end of the school year, May 22. The Nutrition staff is investigating the viability of setting up a second distribution site; we will share information about whether we are able to provide this service in a future community message.

Teaching and learning

We will continue to provide instruction based on a 4-day rotation with the 5th day, Fridays, designated for check-ins and support. While school is in session, students are expected to complete assignments. Student learning for the remainder of the year is important and will impact their preparedness for their class and grade-level next school year. Students who are unable to complete work for reasons related to access and/or personal or family illness should communicate with their school. CSD will:

– Continue providing weekly plans by Monday morning.

– Focus on essential content and the social and emotional well-being of students.

– Offer a minimum of one face-to-face session per week. This may be whole-group, small-group, or one-to-one. Students cannot be required to be online at a certain time, therefore sessions should be recorded so that students can access the session at a later time. Various grades and subjects cannot be held to the same expectation. However, all are encouraged to maximize face-to-face interaction.

Grading

Grading, credit, and promotion guidelines were developed in accordance with Georgia Department of Education guidelines including:

– Students should not be held back in their expected progression – graduation, advancement to the next grade, etc. – as a result of the COVID-19 school closures. The state has granted the necessary flexibility to make this possible.

– Students should not be penalized for circumstances over which they have no control.

– Every possible effort within health and safety guidelines should be made to ensure students demonstrate minimum proficiency to complete course requirements.

K-5 grading guidelines

6-8 grading guidelines

9-12 grading guidelines

Summer school and Extended School Year

Due to uncertainty about when we will be able to resume in-person instruction, we are not planning any summer school services on site. However, for credit recovery purposes at DHS, designated students will be provided online opportunities similar to what has been offered in the past in a virtual environment. DHS has long used an online platform for summer school content with in-person teacher support; we will transition to one-to-one online support instead.

Extended School Year (ESY) services are extended special education services for students who require it as determined by their IEP team. ESY is not “summer school;” however, it often occurs during the summer. Due to uncertainty about when we will be able to resume in-person instruction, Special Education staff will provide ESY services virtually similar to the way special education and related services are being provided virtually now. The student dates for ESY are June 8-26.

New student conditional enrollment

New student registration will be handled virtually until we can reopen. Registration staff is conducting tests on the systems this week and we hope to open registration on April 20. Parents/guardians will fill out the online registration form and upload all required registration documents to the system to be conditionally enrolled. Once we can reopen, all parents/guardians who registered virtually will be required to bring in residency documentation. Additional information will be posted at https://www.csdecatur.net/enrollment.

Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect date for the original last day of school. At the beginning of the school year, it was June 2, but the School Board in September changed it to May 29. This story has been updated with the correct information. 

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