Responding to Crisis Demands Balance: Three States Offer Models for Planning with Flexibility

Responding to Crisis Demands Balance: Three States Offer Models for Planning with Flexibility

As of April 9th, 17 states have already closed or recommended school building closures for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year. With extended closures inevitable for more states, how can charter school authorizers prepare for what’s ahead?

It’s daunting, to be sure. But it’s real and it demands a balance of good planning along with flexibility for what comes next.

Three states — Indiana, Minnesota, and Michigan — are leading the way in requiring all districts and charter schools to develop, submit for review, and publicly share “Continuity of Learning” plans (COL plans). These plans detail not only how the school will continue instruction, but also how they will address other student and staff needs. For authorizers, these plans may offer useful accountability tools.

While each state approaches COL plans differently, there are similarities. Most plans include questions like:

  • How will you deliver continuous learning opportunities for all students, including special student populations?
  • Does the distance learning plan ignore or worsen existing disparities or produce other unintended consequences? Who benefits from the distance learning plan?
  • How will you ensure students have access to appropriate educational materials, including technology?

The ultimate aim of COL plans is to ensure schools are accountable to students and families. That’s why some authorizers may choose to use COL plans when making accountability decisions. Here are highlights from these three states:

  • Indiana’s plan template asks school leaders 10 questions in three broad categories: delivery of instruction, achievement and participation tracking, and staff development. The State Department of Education has also provided in-depth guidance on options and approaches for schools.
  • Minnesota’s asks schools 16 questions, including many that focus on meeting the needs of special populations of students, including students without home internet access, students with disabilities, and English language learners. Plans must also describe how schools will meet students’ non-academic needs, such as meal services and mental health wellness.
  • In Michigan, the state Council of Charter School Authorizers worked closely with the State Department of Education to develop a plan template that includes school assurances that core functions and services, including paying staff, providing meal services, and abiding by IEPs, will continue. These plans also detail the school’s continuing instruction plan, as well as a budget of anticipated additional expenditures and revenues.

These exemplary planning tools can serve as a guide for other states seeking to strike this necessary balance: offering concrete guidelines within a flexible frame. These plans require schools to carefully think about how to continue both instruction and additional student services, including those that may need accommodation, while providing enough flexibility to accommodate the unique challenges facing some schools. The process documents what schools are setting out to do, with the flexibility to shift and adjust as needed.

Many authorizers are already skilled in offering this balance of guidelines with flexibility, and life with COVID-19 certainly requires more of the same. For authorizers and policymakers across the country, COL plans could provide a means of holding charter school portfolios accountable, while also granting ample flexibility in this unprecedented crisis.

Jason Zwara analyzes and develops charter authorizing policies as part of NACSA’s policy team. He tracks state and federal legislation and creates policy resources for members and advocacy partners. Have policy questions? Please reach out at [email protected]

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