The Tulsa school board on Monday discussed building flexibility into several policy areas, such as attendance and grading, for the coming school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tulsa Public Schools is requesting the flexibility, some of which also must be approved by the State Board of Education, in case the district must transition to distance learning at any point during the 2020-21 school year.
Local board members approved a series of similar waivers in April to address issues that derived from switching to home-based instruction to finish the 2019-20 school year.
Approval of these latest requests for flexibility doesn’t guarantee that they will be utilized, said Andrea Castaneda, chief design and innovation officer for TPS. They’ll be used only to the degree necessary if and when they’re needed.
“The exclusive intent behind these flexibilities is a time-bound response to disruptions that COVID either is bringing or might bring,” Castaneda said. “There is no part of this that seeks to diminish the academic expectations, seeks to shorten the instructional day or year, or seeks to weaken the services that we provide to students.”
Several of the waivers involve policies that outline the requirements for recording attendance and define tardiness and truancy. Castaneda said more flexibility in how daily attendance is recorded and how “present” and “absent” are defined will be necessary in the event of more distance learning.
TPS also is requesting an exemption to a policy governing the length of the school day, which traditionally lasts 400 minutes.
Last month, the district approved a calendar for the upcoming school year that increased the length of the school day to 436 minutes. The unconventional calendar is designed to be flexible and allow TPS to transition between full-time distance learning and face-to-face instruction as needed.
Another policy waiver under consideration involves allowing the district to freeze grades and provide extra credit as necessary. Although school districts suspended all grading during the spring distance learning, Castaneda said grades will be necessary in the coming school year regardless of whether schools buildings are closed.
“We need to grade next year for sure, but we need to be fair and thoughtful about the ways that might play out in students’ years and therefore in students’ report cards,” she said.
Additionally, TPS is seeking flexibility in how many students can be enrolled in a virtual course. The current limit is 28 students.
The district also wants to waive the mandatory minutes students must spend in physical education, a subject that is made much more difficult to teach amid social distancing and distance learning. Castaneda said the waiver would not stop physical education from being taught, however.
Other policy flexibilities being sought include waiving CPR instruction for the class of 2020-21 as well as AIDS education for grades 5, 7 and 10. The district also seeks to allow all students to earn credit through nontraditional instruction, such as internships and work studies, and enable secondary students to engage in a wider array of out-of-classroom options.
Meanwhile, TPS is seeking further exemptions from the State Board of Education related to child nutrition, counting enrollment for state aid purposes and identification/documentation requirements for students identified as English language learners.
The Tulsa school board is expected to vote on whether the district will begin the school year in person, through distance learning or a combination of both on Aug. 4.