Lawton Public Schools notified parents Wednesday that its administrators are working on the district’s Distance Learning Plan, in light of action by the State Board of Education.

State board members voted unanimously Wednesday morning to approve what State Superintendent for Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister announced earlier in the week: Oklahoma’s public school students won’t be returning to school buildings this school year.

What school district administrators will be doing instead is implementing Distance Learning Plans, ways to provide instruction for their students outside traditional classroom settings. Those plans must be approved by the State Department of Education before being implemented, and districts have until April 6 to submit them. Such plans will be crafted to meet the needs of individual districts and will contain a variety of learning options, school board members said.

And, while digital technology will be one of the components, it won’t be the only one, Hofmeister said, telling board members at their special meeting that not all districts have that option. She said a group within the State Department of Education was working on a distance learning framework, which will be posted on the department’s web site by Friday.

“This is what our districts will need as they work through their own plans,” she said, adding distance learning will mean education in a different way. “It’s going to look different for a lot of schools and we have to accept that.”

Hofmeister said some schools have the resources for that task and others do not, which is why the department is asking for federal approval to use some federal funding to support distance learning. Districts with little connectivity and those with limited access will get special attention the education department, she said.

LPS Superintendent Tom Thomas, in a letter released to staff and parents Wednesday after the state board meeting, said the district already is preparing for distance learning, noting it is “a significant transition for our students and our teachers.” Those details will be released as they become available, Thomas said.

The decision means Lawton and other school districts won’t be holding classes in buildings and also have cancelled all extracurricular activities for the remainder of the school year. While amending policies that specify how school districts must operate — including average daily attendance guidelines that influence a state district’s state aid — state school board members said the last official day of the 2019-2020 year was March 12, the day before Oklahoma students began Spring Break. That provision will protect school funding.

The State Department of Education also is exploring other options, including a partnership with OETA to broadcast instructional programming for public school students, Hofmeister said.

The board’s directive specifies districts must take steps to ensure graduating seniors have the assessments they need to graduate. The department also is working on additional guidelines for students with special education needs and those learning English.

Brad Clark, the state school board’s general counsel, said while awarding class credit is a function of local school boards, the state department is encouraging flexibility so students in the Senior Class of 2020 graduate on time and are not “negatively impacted....” Hofmeister said some districts are working on ways to honor their seniors.

“I’m already hearing about creative ways to graduate,” she said.

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