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From attendance focus to special session, DESE prepares for continued COVID-19 fallout

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is preparing for the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to have on the state’s education system. 

A large portion of Tuesday’s agenda meeting of the Board of Education covered the economic shortfalls expected to impact the education system. Gov. Mike Parson announced the withholding of $131 million from DESE last week, which amounts to 39 percent of June’s payment to schools. 

The board discussed ways for the state to offset the expected shortfall, including a possible request for a special session. 

“So, should we ask the governor to put a couple [of] things in play?” Board President Charlie Shields said. “One would be to figure out the attendance piece. We’ve got different scenarios for snow days and all kinds of other things, but nobody had one for COVID-19. It would give us the flexibility to do something on attendance in terms of the formula. The other would be this issue if you withhold across the board … Do we ask the governor to put that in his call for a special session to clarify those issues for us?”

Missouri’s education system is heavily reliant on school attendance. Besides performance, attendance is a major contributing factor in funding. While many districts have switched to online learning, where counting attendance is still possible, some rural areas without access to high-speed internet have resorted to sending out homework packets on paper to students, which makes it difficult to accurately gauge attendance due to the lack of interaction. 

The board also expressed concerns about the possibility of a resurgence in cases in the fall, which has been speculated on for some time.

“We will be asking parents to keep their children home if they are ill,” DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven said. “We will be asking parents to keep their children home for symptoms they may not have ever kept them home for in the past. So we expect to see a significant decline in attendance at the request of health officials.”

“The way we’re trying to think about how to get this attendance waiver or whatever we need is to say, ‘Should children stay home if they’re ill – yes. Should we stop talking about perfect attendance as the banner award for this year – yes,’” she said.

DESE also started a Task Force for Learning Acceleration in an effort to make up for lost education during school closings. The task force will be divided into three areas: a learning loss team, an acceleration of learning team, and a student outreach team. 

The learning loss group will assess the progress and pacing of different districts. The acceleration of learning group will highlight strategies to speed up learning due to lost time, and the student outreach group will spotlight the social and emotional health of students and educators. The task force is to submit its recommendations to DESE on June 24 for review before being put into place before the beginning of the next school year. 

The next DESE agenda meeting is set to take place in August. 


EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.