Saturday, March 21, 2020

Amid school shutdown, Hofmeister demands virtual charters cease instruction

On Monday, the Oklahoma State Board of Education met and ordered the closure of all public schools in the state until April 6th due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said “Nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of Oklahomans. It is critical that we do everything in our power to protect the health of our kids, their families, educators and all vulnerable populations.

Large gatherings of students obviously pose a health risk when dealing with a contagious disease like the novel coronavirus currently sweeping the globe. Meals will continue to be served by the school system to those students who utilize the child nutrition programs, with changes to avoid congregating groups during service.

Included in this shutdown are the virtual charter schools, with public school students who participate in learning via online systems from their homes. Under the order, instructional activities and services, down to teachers grading assignments, are strictly forbidden.

“This requires a statewide answer and we need to be operating together with a uniform approach and with a unified voice,” Hofmeister said during the board meeting.

As every homeschooler in the nation can tell you, education absolutely can continue while confined to home. For students who already receive their public education at home via virtual charter schooling, there is no reason to mandate the suspension of their education.

But for the 30,000+ kids enrolled in Epic Virtual Charter School, the cessation is completely unnecessary, unproductive, and costly to families. Parents enrolled their kids in virtual charters to allow for the special family circumstances, child needs, safer environment, and flexibility.
Epic's teachers rarely have to be present for child instruction Normally the assistance happens via a coordinated online and telephonic platform set up in Epic's educational platform.  So Epic wants the children to remain in the weekly routine of learning hours and curriculum load, so they can complete their academic year at the end of May.
(Article: Hofmeister Demands That Home-based Education Cease Online Instruction)
From the Center for Independent Journalism:
The closure of online learning options caught many officials off guard since virtual learning allows children to obtain a K-12 education without exposure to potential coronavirus carriers, and because Oklahoma’s order contrasts with policy decisions in other states.
“While EPIC is a virtual school and is uniquely positioned to deliver instruction virtually to all of our students, the State Board of Education did not make a distinction among Oklahoma public schools in its order so this closure does apply to EPIC Charter Schools,” Bart Banfield, superintendent of Epic Charter Schools, wrote in a Facebook message to parents and students. “This means we are being instructed by the state to not allow faculty to provide direct instruction during the window of the closure. The state is also disallowing faculty to record grades. Your student will still have access to the core curriculum and supplements including their EPIC Essentials.”

“Our first priority is the safety and well-being of our families and our school staff. In line with the direction given by the Oklahoma State Board of Education, Oklahoma Connections Academy will be closed for the same duration as all K-12 public schools in the state,” Melissa Gregory, school leader for Oklahoma Connections Academy, said in a prepared statement. “As a virtual school, our students will continue to be able to access their curriculum and lessons online during this time if they wish to work on their studies independently, but they are not required to do so.”

“We are all concerned that public education is being disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Insight School of Oklahoma will follow the guidance of the State Board of Education,” said Jennifer Wilkinson, head of school at Insight School of Oklahoma. “We know that online school provides a unique opportunity to ensure continuity of education for all students, and we had hoped to stay open for our students during this difficult period. Whether they are looking for a learning environment free from bullying, are looking to get their education back on track, or any other reason they may choose to attend public school at home, we look forward to continuing to serve Oklahoma families as best we can.”
(Article: Oklahoma closes public schools—including online schools)
 As Ray Carter at the Center for Independent Journalism points out, many other states are utilizing and encouraging online learning to continue during closure of physical school buildings.

At a time when Oklahoma could be forward-thinking and innovative, it seems that State Superintendent Hofmeister and the State Board of Education would rather force everyone into the same box of confined thinking.

Disrupting the education of students who already do there studies at home is an unnecessary and counterproductive move.


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