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‘It’s regular school now’: Washington aims for improved virtual learning as classes begin

Most students are learning virtually this fall. (Seattle Public Schools, Facebook)

With school getting underway in Washington this week, a majority of the state’s students are returning virtually. How has it gone so far? Superintendent Chris Reykdal stopped by KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show to weigh in.

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Schools were first forced to transition to virtual classes when the COVID-19 outbreak began in March. At the time, districts weren’t prepared for the rigors of managing classes on largely untested and hastily prepared platforms. With a summer to lay down a roadmap for virtual learning, things have been going much more smoothly this time around.

“The good news is it’s just so much better organized,” Reykdal noted. “The whole country shut down in March and everyone scrambled. But we’ve gotten professional learning out there now, so teachers are better at their platforms, [and] students are better able to navigate … the learning models.”

Reykdal estimates that roughly 95% of Washington students are starting school remotely this fall, while 4% are in a hybrid model. Just 1% are attending classes fully in person, in the few districts where it’s safe enough to do so based on the state Department of Health’s protocols and standards.

That being so, the state has mobilized to ensure students have all the technology they need to learn from afar.

“Of those students who are in remote models — that’s the bulk of our kids — we have deployed over 300,000 devices since last March, and about 60,000 either WiFi or broadband connections,” Reykdal said.

That also still leaves about 10% of students without a reliable remote learning connection, “and so those districts where those students are served have a responsibility to brings those kids in one-to-one, if that’s what it takes.”

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The new system of online learning hasn’t been without its challenges, too. Low-income parents depend on schools to distribute reduced-price lunches to kids, while many students need access to counselors.

“It’s really the wraparound supports that are sometimes the hardest to deliver remote,” Reykdal said.

All told, though, Reykdal remains confident that things are about as normal as they can be, given the circumstances.

“We’re grading, we’re taking attendance every day, there are assessments — it’s regular school now.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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