Coronavirus FAQ: Everything Schools and Companies Need and Want to Know

Mar 17, 2020

Over the past weeks, readers have asked us many questions about the impact of the coronavirus on education in many different areas, from admissions to advice for young children, from salaries to student privacy and whether school closures actually work.

The EdSurge newsroom is working to answer these questions and direct readers to appropriate resources, where they exist. As we receive and answer others, we will update this post.

Some of the questions are time-sensitive, and our responses will be updated to reflect the latest developments.

If you have any questions—or see something that should be updated—please let me know on Twitter @tonywan or tony@edsurge.com.

Stay safe, sane and sanitary, everyone.

— Tony Wan, Managing Editor

Access and Equity

How can we accommodate students who have learning disabilities in online instruction and practice universal design principles?

Students who have learning disabilities can be more comfortable using technology tools than their classmates as they often already rely on digital aides for their everyday learning, says Stephanie Del Tufo, an assistant professor specializing in literacy education at the University of Delaware. That means students who need academic accommodations aren’t necessarily at a disadvantage when in-person classes shift online.

However, educators should make sure to translate the accommodations they’ve likely already made in the classroom into their distance learning plans, Del Tufo says. Most learning management platforms have built-in tools for students who need accommodations. If possible, teachers and professors should use multiple modes of conveying information (video, audio, text slides, etc.) during lessons, and offer students a variety of ways to complete assignments rather than requiring everyone to write a paper or take a timed exam.

Institutional offices of disability services, academic accommodations, and equality and diversity should be contacting instructors with reminders and information, Del Tufo says. Instructors who have questions or concerns should feel free to contact such offices themselves.

For more information, Del Tufo recommends the universal design for learning research of Anne Meyer and David Rose.

— Rebecca Koenig (March 16, 2020)

Administration and Leadership

How is all this being negotiated with teachers unions?

The American Federation of Teachers has published guidance for education labor leaders on how to handle coronavirus and possible school responses. According to the document, local leaders “should be a part of any planning for an outbreak and should request a bargaining session with your employer to discuss readiness. Health and safety issues are mandatory bargaining subjects, so employers have a legal obligation to disclose information and bargain on this issue. … You are entitled to know everything about the district’s plans.”

Similarly, for higher education leaders: “You are entitled to know everything about the college or university plans.”

The union also published guidance for union members about their rights during a public health emergency. It emphasizes that some rules are state specific and recommends members look at their collective bargaining agreements.

— Rebecca Koenig (March 16, 2020)

How will this affect teacher pay?

On March 16, the president of the National Education Association tweeted: “We are working with every state affiliate to ensure employees are able to stay home without fear of losing pay.”

Guidance from the American Federation of Teachers suggests that if employers change working conditions or ask employees to act in violation of collective bargaining agreements, union members should comply, and then the union should file a class-action grievance.

Regarding unemployment benefits and workers’ compensation, AFT guidance says, “provided all other unemployment requirements are met under state law and regulations, a member should be eligible to receive unemployment benefits for actions by the employer or government such as mandatory quarantines or isolation, reduced hours or temporary closure of a workplace. Unemployment insurance is very state-specific, so locals should check with a qualified attorney before advising members on unemployment eligibility following an employer action in response to the coronavirus.”

— Rebecca Koenig (March 16, 2020)

Education Technology Providers

How can we offer products temporarily for free without being bothersome or getting backlash for being opportunistic?

During these first few days of schools moving online, educators are adjusting to a new—and likely chaotic—environment. Pitches about new products could add to the noise.

There are efforts to collect and share offerings from companies that want to help impacted schools. A Facebook group, Amazing Educational Resources, has compiled a spreadsheet of more than 400 free offerings. NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit philanthropy that funds schools and educational companies, has also started a list.

Another effort is Learning Keeps Going, a collaborative initiative from ISTE (EdSurge’s parent organization), Digital Promise, CoSN and others that aims to curate online resources and tools from educators and companies.

Related EdSurge article on this topic:

— Tony Wan (March 16, 2020)

General Questions

Should schools close? Is the response justified?

Depends on who you ask. Children haven’t been especially susceptible to COVID-19, but health experts say closing schools may help maintain “social distance” among people, which can help slow an outbreak. On March 16, the National Education Association called for all schools to close for at least two weeks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created a decision tree to help schools decide how to prepare and act during this pandemic. It notes that, when a confirmed case has entered a school, some institutions may need to “dismiss students and most staff for two to five days,” while for others, “school dismissals and event cancellations may be extended if advised by local health officials.”

Yet shutting schools and colleges for prolonged periods may leave some students without their basic needs met, and may especially hinder learning for students who can’t access online education tools. “When we close schools, we need to be doubly sure that adequate supports are in place,” said American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten in a statement on March 16. “That means services for medically fragile students and other vulnerable children, an emergency support plan for all first responders and healthcare workers to support child care and other needs, access to appropriate testing and care, feeding programs, and learning packets and specific guidance for online learning.”

Check out these EdSurge reported articles and op-eds on the topic.

— Rebecca Koenig (March 16, 2020)

How should you talk with very young children (ages 3 to 6) about COVID-19?

Humanitarian aid organization UNICEF recommends the following strategies for talking with young children about COVID-19.

  1. Ask open questions and listen without minimizing their concerns.
  2. Be honest but sensitive to their level of anxiety.
  3. Teach them healthy behaviors, like hand washing.
  4. Offer reassurance and maintain regular routines when possible.
  5. Make sure they are not spreading or experiencing stigma or bullying.
  6. Share stories of people who are helping, like health workers and scientists.
  7. Take care of yourself—children pick up on adult stress.
  8. Close the conversation with care and remind them you’re available to talk again whenever they are worried.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network recommends that adults look for reactions in young children, such as fears of being alone, bad dreams and increased behavior problems, and respond accordingly.

According to Erin Wilkey Oh, an executive editor at Common Sense Media, “Elementary school-aged students and even some middle schoolers have trouble fully understanding news events.” Here is her advice for interacting with kids younger than 7:

  • Keep the news away. Preschool kids don’t need to see or hear about something that will only scare them, especially because they can easily confuse facts with fantasies or fears.
  • Stress that their family is safe. At this age, kids are most concerned with their parents’ safety and separation from them. Try not to minimize or discount their concerns and fears, but reassure them by explaining all the protective measures that exist to keep them safe.
  • Double down on distraction. Though it’s important to listen and not belittle their fears, distraction can go a long way with young kids. Keep them busy with fun hands-on learning opportunities, physical activity, and engaging stories.

— Rebecca Koenig & Stephen Noonoo (March 16, 2020)

How do you talk to kids about distance learning?

Consider setting expectations and establishing a new virtual classroom culture, suggests Wilkey Oh, an executive editor at Common Sense Media. “They may be used to texting or chatting with friends on social media, but how they interact in the online school setting will be different,” she says. “Help them learn what to do if they encounter hurtful language online, how to switch their communication style based on the setting, and ways to debate and communicate with civility.”

She offers a few lessons on positive online communication, which can be modified for different grade levels.

Teachers and parents can also talk to students about screen time and media balance, and incorporate a mix of online and offline activities into their routine—along with regular breaks from devices. “Talk with students about how much time they’re spending on devices and help them reflect on how their media use makes them feel,” Wilkey Oh says. She suggests the following lessons on media balance.

— Stephen Noonoo (March 16, 2020)

Legal and Privacy

Are there unique legal considerations to keep in mind that go above and beyond COPPA when facilitating remote learning?

Federal laws safeguarding student privacy, including COPPA (The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) and FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) still apply in the event of remote and online learning.

School officials and teachers should be especially wary of using tools designed for commercial (non-educational) purposes, as they may not be in compliance with those rules.

“We are likely to see more uncontrolled and unregulated use of technology by educators and others who suddenly have to move things online without clear guidance from the institution,” says Amelia Vance, director of youth and education privacy at the Future of Privacy Forum, a nonprofit focused on digital privacy.

Ideally, schools and districts will have a centralized web page of all the tools that are available and have already been vetted for privacy and security compliance. Some states, like Connecticut, have an educational software hub. In the absence of this resource, Vance suggests other places where educators can look for safe digital tools, including:

  • Common Sense, which has reviewed the privacy policies and practices of popular edtech apps;
  • Student Privacy Pledge, which lists companies that have pledged to safeguard student data privacy. (The pledge is legally enforceable, Vance adds.)

Moving classes online will also raise questions about the extent to which school-issued devices with surveillance software pre-installed will monitor student activity at home, since officials are still supposed to ensure that students are receiving an education at home. Vance asks: “How comfortable will we be with schools monitoring students and what they do at home, now that home is going to be school?”

— Tony Wan (March 16, 2020)

Teaching and Learning

What are the best ways to keep students engaged and make sure that they are online and not surfing aimlessly?

Educators and parents should temper their expectations for what can be accomplished by suddenly shifting to online instruction, president of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten told CNN, saying, “We’re not going to replace schooling” that way.

EdSurge posed this question to the National Home School Association, whose executive director J. Allen Weston had this to say:

“This time away from the schools could be used to explore things that children actually want to learn but have not had the time or opportunity. Try having in-depth discussions about what is really important to the children and what they are really interested in. Reawakening the joy of learning, not for grades, but for the joy of learning, could be invaluable for many students. Use this time to get to know each of your kids better. Keep things light and as stress free as possible as pushing often generates resistance.”

Common Sense Media has also curated a list of tools and resources for families to help with distance learning.

For student-led and interest-driven learning:

For using video:

— Rebecca Koenig & Stephen Noonoo (March 16, 2020)

How can teachers help create routines for online learning and guarantee attendance?

According to Robin Shawver, a librarian at Qingdao Amerasia International School in China, who has been using virtual learning with students since February, it’s not always possible to guarantee attendance given students’ vastly different home lives. Still, teachers can help ease the burden by offering guidance and specific responsibilities.

“We have sent out a packet of information in English and Chinese with suggestions on schedules, creating a home learning environment and tips on time management,” Shawver says. But, she adds, “each teacher has set up their own way of doing things with their students.” One fourth-grade teacher created weekly checklists, morning videos for students and now offers weekly tech tips for families. “For most of our younger students, and even some of older students, there has been a lot of quick upskilling needing to be done in basic computer use.”

— Stephen Noonoo (March 16, 2020)

Testing and Admissions

What impact will this have on the SAT tests that will be happening? How can we best support students during this time and will evaluations for the SAT still be taking place?

The College Board is canceling the May 2, 2020 SAT administration. Makeup exams for the March 14 administration are also canceled. Students will receive refunds if they already registered for May, their March test centers were closed or they did not receive March scores. Here is more information.

— What about AP tests?

On March 20, the College Board announced that no face-to-face AP exams will be given his spring. Instead, the organization is working to create at-home, online, 45-minute tests.

The online exams will only include material that most AP classes should have already covered in class by early March, according to the College Board. The tests will be available via computer, tablet or smartphone, and there will also be an option to take a photo of handwritten work. The College Board says these exams will be “designed and administered in ways that prevent cheating.”

Students who will need help accessing online tools are encouraged to contact the College Board with this form. Starting March 25, students and teachers can attend free, live AP review courses.

Any student already registered for an exam can choose to cancel at no charge if they prefer not to participate in the at-home testing.

More information is available here. Additional details are expected by April 3. —Rebecca Koenig (March 20, 2020)

— And the ACT?

On March 16, ACT announced that it will reschedule its April 4, 2020 national test date to June 13, 2020. “All students registered for the April 4 test date will receive an email from ACT in the next few days informing them of the postponement and instructions for next steps,” the statement read. More information is available here.

— Rebecca Koenig & Tony Wan (March 16, 2020)

How has this affected college admissions policies and procedures?

UPDATE: ACCEPT has published a list of schools that have moved their dates.

Colleges have already begun pushing back the typical student commitment deadline of May 1. Oregon State University, Southwestern University in Texas and Utica College in New York are just some of the schools that have extended their enrollment deposit dates to June 1.

Sally Rubenstone, a contributor to college admissions counseling website College Confidential and an admissions counselor for more than 15 years, said in an email that even if students’ preferred colleges haven’t moved their dates yet, COVID-19 related reasons might grant an extension from admissions officials.

Students and parents “need to check and re-check college websites because this situation is very much in flux, and a decision made today could change by tomorrow,” Rubenstone wrote.

She continued: “The key is to not take any current information as gospel truth because I expect to see many schools changing the enrollment deadline in the weeks and ahead, and some perhaps changing it more than once.”

For graduate students, April 15 is a common deadline to accept financial support from a university the following academic year. These types of support include graduate scholarships, fellowships and assistantships. The Council of Graduate Schools, a national organization for graduate deans, is maintaining that deadline but cautions that individual colleges and programs could move to a different one.

The list of schools that follow the April 15 deadline is here. No major graduate school adjustments have been announced at this time.

— Wade Tyler Millward (March 17, 2020)


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