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State makes virtual learning difficult

The state is not ready to allow entire school systems to shift to remote learning, but guidance issued by Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn indicates individual classrooms and schools may be allowed to go virtual, provided they meet certain COVID thresholds.

The news comes as the Warren County School System is in the midst of a one-week shutdown due to a high number of coronavirus cases among students and faculty. Director of Schools Grant Swallows announced the decision Friday night to close for an entire week with students returning after Labor Day on Tuesday, Sept. 7.

“Virtual learning might be a possibility going forward with individual schools and classrooms,” said Swallows. “However, with the timing of Commissioner Schwinn’s announcement and widespread sickness, school closure worked best for Warren County this week.”

In a letter to all school directors sent last Friday at about the time Swallows announced schools would be closed, Schwinn continued to emphasize her belief that students need to be learning in school, but she acknowledged with the high number of illnesses in some areas that schools need to have “a nimble approach to this school year.”

Schwinn said the Department of Education would consider waivers for an individual classroom or school to transition to remote learning. She said those waivers would be evaluated three times a day, at 9 a.m., 12 p.m. noon, and 3 p.m. Central.

Schwinn indicated waivers would not be granted liberally.

“While I want to provide common sense flexibilities to administrators who are making every possible effort to ensure the continuation of in-person academic instruction, my expectation is that waivers will be narrowly applied to preserve in-person learning wherever practicable,” said Schwinn.

Swallows also stressed remote learning would not be available districtwide.

“She (Schwinn) stated this morning that the bar for granting the waiver is very high,” said Swallows. “You must have no possible way of offering in-person instruction. If you have any adult that can pack lunches then you cannot say you don’t have staff available to offer lunches.”  

Swallows said closing schools for the week was not preferable, but it was necessary to slow the spread of COVID. It cost the school system five of its stockpiled days for bad weather.