BENNINGTON — According to new guidance released on Wednesday, the Vermont Agency of Education gave districts more clarity on the use of hybrid learning plans when schools open at the end of next month.
The guidance says that plans should focus on an in-person return, but that districts need to be flexible to shift school instruction along a continuum from full in-person instruction to full remote learning, with a hybrid approach in the middle.
School districts are being allowed to come up with formal rules and procedures if hybrid learning is the way a district goes. The guidance from the state says that districts should considering adopting procedures for hybrid learning, whether it's formal school board policy or under the superintendent's authority.
Some of those procedures include figuring out what grade levels will have the option for hybrid learning, emphasizing in-person instruction in primary grade levels; a process for parents to sign up and discontinue participation in hybrid learning; expectations for the completion of student work and achievement of academic milestones; a description to the synchronicity of hybrid learning experience to in-person instruction; the provision for student-teacher check-ins, how special education and related services will be provided; sharing information for the food service program; and student participation in extracurricular activities.
In the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, school board president Dick Frantz said those decisions will be left to the district, not the school board.
"The board doesn't want to micromanage," Frantz said. "We want to respect what they've developed with their teams. They are professionals in the business."
No matter what type of instruction is done, the state requires public schools to be "maintained and operated for ... 175 student attendance days," with at least 51% of the student body "recorded ... as in attendance" per day and a minimum number of hours that constitute a school day, "as being between two and 5.5 hours, depending upon grade level."
Vermont law does provide flexibility in determining what constitutes a school day.
For example, a day may be counted as a full day of school if the school board "send[s] the pupils home after school has begun due to emergencies such as the outbreak of a contagious disease." In addition, the Secretary of Education may "permit alternate methods of counting the cumulative instructional hours" provided that students do not lose instructional time and "related" educational programs, and the alternate method is "otherwise in the interests of the students and the district."
When schools closed in March, schools and educators pivoted quickly to virtual learning.
If a school district ends up in a remote or hybrid mode, they have two ways to record that a student was considered "in school."
They can either make contact with the student by video chat, phone or if the student logs into a "Learning Management System," such as Google Classroom, and "engages in learning activities," such as completing assignments asynchronously, or not during an actual class period, or working on assessments.
Alternatively, the minimum number of instructional hours can be met either by the rules already in place by the Agency of Education or by some other method approved by the AoE.