How Local School Districts Plan to Prevent Education Inequality During Distance Learning

Some families are worried their children will fall behind due to a lack of resources

Students are starting to head back to school in the D.C. region, although it looks a lot different this year. Most local school districts are starting out 100% virtual. Some families are joining together to create "learning pods" — small in-home groups of students. Parents either help guide them through their coursework or hire a pod teacher.

Distance learning is creating a lot of concerns about educational inequality. We asked local school districts how they will identify and assist students who may need extra help with their coursework. We also asked what's being done about students who have no access to the internet at home. Their responses are below.

Many parents are concerned that virtual learning will create educational inequality among students. Consumer Reporter Susan Hogan has four places you can find free tutoring help.

Alexandria City Public Schools

We will be screening all students to make sure we are meeting their academic needs.

For those children who will be in essential worker childcare programs provided by our community partners, we will make sure these students have the support they need to complete their schoolwork just as if they were at home.

We have multiple supports for students who need something a little extra. 

This is just a snapshot.

• EL students will have a dedicated English language development block.

• Students with disabilities will receive direct synchronous instruction with special education teachers and ACPS will provide related therapies in a teletherapy format.

*NBCWashington note: ACPS also offers free 24/7 online tutoring to students in grades 6-12.

Technology and Internet Access:

ACPS is ensuring all students from PreK to grade 12 have the technology they need to fully participate in our Virtual Plus+ program of online learning in the fall.

We are providing tablet devices to all PreK, Kindergarten and First Grade students. All students from second grade will be given Chromebooks. 

In addition, any families who do not have internet access will be provided, if they haven’t already, with Kajeet hotspots. We are confident we have a very robust technology program and can get everyone online by the start of the fall semester.

Anne Arundel County Public Schools

We are working on a virtual tutoring program for our middle and high school students. Additionally, our county library operates a free homework helpline.

Technology and Internet Access:

We are working to get every student a Chromebook by November 1 (every family will have at least one by the start of school). We are also working with our partners to address connectivity issues and were recently awarded funds through the Governor’s connectivity grant that will assist with a combination of wireless bills and hot spots.

Arlington Public Schools

Elementary: Interventions for students behind in reading and writing will occur as part of the school day for Elementary. Students will have this small group intervention time M-F.

Secondary: Students will have opportunities to get additional support from teachers during weekly office hours at the secondary level.  These office hours will be used to provide individualized support and guidance.

Tiered System of Supports: Arlington Public Schools has a robust multi-tiered system of support framework entitled Arlington Tiered System of Support (ATSS).  The purpose of the ATSS framework is to ensure that all students are provided with the resources and supports needed for academic, social-emotional, and behavioral success.  This framework provides educators with evidence-based, system-wide practices that allow for a quick response to a wide variety of student needs.  These practices include frequent progress monitoring and collaboration among various stakeholder groups to ensure that effective, data-based instructional decisions are made.

This fall schools will continue to utilize the ATSS framework in a virtual setting to ensure that all students are receiving the targeted instruction they need.  With the guidance of the ATSS office, schools will continue to virtually refine and adapt the 5 main components of ATSS including 1) rigorous, differentiated Tier 1 instruction, 2) universal screening and assessment, 3) progress monitoring, 4) research-based interventions, and 5) data-based decision making. 

Schools will continue to use the three tiers of the ATSS framework to respond to the individual academic, behavioral, and social-emotional needs of students.  For those students who require additional supports, certain adaptations and modifications will be implemented to accommodate these supports in a virtual setting.  These supports could include frequent individual check-ins with APS staff, on-going diagnostic assessments, direct, explicit, and systematic synchronous instruction, increased frequency and duration of small group instruction and/or intervention, and differentiated and scaffolded Tier 1 synchronous and asynchronous instruction utilizing Universal Design for Learning guidelines.  APS staff will continue to offer a wide variety of interventions for students in need, including but not limited to Orton-Gillingham, Do the Math, and Zones of Regulation, in a virtual setting. 

Furthermore, each school’s Student Support Team will be available to collaborate and support teachers in determining how to support the needs of all students virtually.  Collaborative Learning Teams (CLTs) will continue to meet on a weekly basis to analyze individual student data/progress and adjust instruction accordingly.  More information about Student Support Teams, CLTs, and additional processes APS uses to support students can be found in the Student Support Manual

Technology and Internet Access:

APS, Arlington County and Comcast have partnered to provide free internet essentials to qualifying families for one year. Arlington County provided APS with a $500,000 grant from CARES Act funding. We’ve already provided internet to summer school students who needed it. More details are here.

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Calvert County Public Schools

At this time we have various mentors and helpers around the county that generally work with specific schools,  but no formal list of volunteer tutors. As the new year begins, we will be identifying those students who need extra help and offering opportunities for them online and in-person as best we can.

Technology and Internet Access:

We are providing laptops to all students in grades 3-12. For those who can get internet access but can’t afford it, we are finding ways to help them out. For those who just don’t get a cable service where they live, but they do have a good cell signal, we will be offering free Kajeet hot spots. For those who cannot be helped with a hot spot, we are looking at opening internet cafes in some of our school cafeterias where students can set up at their own table, access our internet and even have some staff helpers available to assist.

Charles County Public Schools

Did not respond to our request for information.

Culpeper County Public Schools

To help address some equity concerns, our school board is offering two days a week of in-person instruction and three days of asynchronous learning and synchronous check-ins with teachers on the other three days. Parents also have the option of remote instruction at home.

Technology and Internet Access:

In addition to providing all students with a Chromebook, the division is currently collecting interest from parents without internet access. These families may be offered a hot spot or a code to a Comcast Essentials package. Our county is very rural and some homes don't have access to a cell signal for a hot spot to work. CCPS students have access to the division's WiFi on each campus parking lot.

City of Fairfax Schools

The City of Fairfax contracts with Fairfax County Public Schools for all programming and instructional services. (See below)

The City of Fairfax Parks and Recreation is offering a childcare/supervisory program to help parents with virtual learning.

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DC Public Schools

In virtual learning, students will feel loved by their school community, challenged by a joyful and rigorous curriculum, and prepared to take the next steps in their learning. We spent the spring and summer working with over 200 teachers and staff to transfer our curriculum to an online experience, which will allow for a more user-friendly, efficient and organized approach to virtual learning. We are leaning on the expertise and feedback of our educators to update learning at home materials that meet the needs of all students. Educators will build authentic relationships with students virtually through consistent feedback and real-time support on class assignments. 

Students will be more engaged and connected with their teachers and peers through frequent, live instruction. All students will have content to focus on every day. Teachers will be presenting content through live instruction and there will also be supporting materials for independent work. 

Students in need of special education services, English language support, and other required supports will still receive these services with all-virtual instruction. The learning at home experience may include co-taught and/or small group or individual lessons with a special educator or ESL teacher. All students will have a distance learning plan addendum added to their IEP, as well. 

School Mental Health Teams are supporting students at all levels of need including families who will have all-virtual related services. 

DCPS is also offering a new series of Parent University virtual workshops to help families focus on learning at home in the fall and the best ways to support students during this time.

Technology and Internet Access:

DCPS will ensure that every student who needs a DCPS-issued device for virtual learning will have access to both a device and internet for School Year 2020-2021. DCPS is accomplishing this goal through a comprehensive family needs assessment process. DCPS will provide devices to students who lack access in the home. DCPS is asking all families to report their technology access in the DCPS Technology Survey You can also complete the survey by phone by calling your school.

Fairfax County Public Schools

The FCPS schedule for virtual instruction includes explicit time for students to participate in intervention with their teacher(s).  There are 3 dedicated hours on Mondays, as well as sixty minutes per day built into the elementary schedule.  In addition, FCPS has purchased student licenses for two new digital resources.  These programs will be used to provide student data to teachers and individualized instruction to students.  These engaging, high-interest programs may be used both during synchronous instruction or outside of class and their adaptive nature will adjust for students who need remediation, practice, and enrichment.

Fairfax County has developed a program intended for more vulnerable students called “Supporting Return to School” SRS. Details of the program are here:

SRS is a full-day program supporting virtual learning during the academic day, with a before- and after-school care component. When children in the SRS program are not engaged in their virtual academic school day, they will have opportunities to explore activities based on the program’s curriculum, The Great Outdoors: Road Trips Through the Americas.  The SRS program is being offered by Fairfax County Government through the Office for Children, which provides educational care for students before and after school through the SACC program. OFC teachers will be staffing the SRS program.  The program will be able to accommodate approximately 60 children per site. Each classroom will have a group of no more than 10 children who will stay together each day, along with consistent staff, to support their online learning and in-person connections.

The safety of both staff and students in the SRS program is of utmost importance. The SRS program will follow current CDC health and safety guidelines, as well as guidance from the Fairfax County Health Department. Additionally, the following measures are in place:

  • Students will be in groups of 10 or fewer per classroom.
  • Students will stay together as a group the entire day with the same staff members.
  • Scheduled cleaning of high-touch areas will occur throughout the day.
  • No visitors will be admitted.
  • A daily check-in will include taking staff and students’ temperatures and asking a series of health questions before staff and students may enter the building.
  • Children and staff will be required to wear face coverings throughout the day.
  • Physical distancing of at least six feet will be supported.

Technology and Internet Access:

FCPS is committed to providing devices and connectivity to all students.

Falls Church City Public Schools

All teachers are creating learning recovery plans that include; connecting learning experiences, focusing on essential knowledge and skills from previous grades, and using formative data to gauge student understanding. This work will continue throughout the whole year.

In addition, each school is providing additional support to students that need specific interventions in either academics or social-emotional learning. This time is built-in during the school day and is in addition to the already scheduled instruction. Students will be monitored and assessed to ensure achievement gaps are closed.  

FCCPS recognizes and empathizes with the burden on families due to the shift to online learning. Therefore, we are committed to supporting families in need of options for childcare. We are grateful for the partnership with the General Government and appreciate their creativity to help our community.  The City of Falls Church Recreation and Parks Department is offering REC CONNECT, a supervised e-learning center held at the Falls Church Community Center, supervised by Recreation and Parks Department staff. The program provides a supervised environment for children to complete their school-led virtual instruction. Staff will provide recreational activities during breaks. Program waivers, child information forms, including virtual platforms, etc., will be sent to all registered participants prior to the start of the program.

Technology and Internet Access:

100% of our students have devices and we only have about 20 families across the division who expressed issues with internet access. They all were provided with a MiFi device in the Spring. Our social workers are following up with everyone who indicated an issue and making sure they still have support.

Fauquier County Public Schools

Teachers have scheduled office hours for appointments and time to check in on students and their families so that teachers can personalize instruction as needed.

Students with IEPs who require face-to face-instruction are being afforded the opportunity to come to school. We are also researching inviting English Language Learners whose level of language may create a barrier in online instruction to come to school.

Technology and Internet Access:

We are publishing an internet access guide that will detail these further, but here are some of the supports we are providing families:

  • WiFi hotspots checked out to families
  • Planning to provide internet café services to most of our school buildings (still working out details)
  • External WiFi added to school parking lots
  • Hotspot locations provided by Fauquier County
  • WiFi Smart Buses parked around the county
  • Chromebooks can work offline if students can connect and download needed materials
  • Send materials home on thumb drives, or provide hard copies for those that need

Frederick County Public Schools (MD)

Our Board has approved small group instruction occurring face to face in our schools.  We will prioritize these groups based on individualized educational needs, specialized programs that require hands-on experiences (such as our career-tech programs where students are seeking certification) and the need for reliable internet access.  We will also be using CARES funding to provide tutoring opportunities for identified students.

We used summer programs to support our most vulnerable student populations.  Additionally, we have built time into our virtual model schedules to address learning loss and needed interventions.  Continuous progress monitoring by our teachers will also ensure we can plan ways to support individual student needs.

Technology and Internet Access:

We have deployed 1,000 mobile hot spots for students without internet access.  We also know that in some areas in our county, those hot spots cannot handle the streaming demands of synchronous instruction.  That is why we will be offering the option to come into our schools to use the internet connections.

Frederick County Public Schools (VA)

School teams and key central office instructional leaders will work collaboratively to implement effective means of determining student learning and the need for remediation and intervention. The emphasis shall be on teaching, not assessing, our students. Ongoing, formative assessment, combined with minimal formal assessments if needed, shall provide the data needed to identify learning needs.

Frederick County (VA) Public Schools follows a Multi-Tiered Systems of Support approach to ensure student needs are met. This approach will remain in place. Student learning needs are best met through research-based, high quality (“Tier 1”) instructional practices. Students requiring additional Tier 2 or Tier 3 supports will follow a plan as outlined by the Intervention Team.

Intervention and remediation will be provided in a variety of ways and will be student-specific based on individual needs. Remediation may be offered during the school day, embedded into current learning experiences, or provided outside the normal learning day. School teams will determine the best approach to remediation based on student needs and resources available within their school community. 

Technology and Internet Access: 

We are continuing to develop plans to assist students without Internet access.  Our school network can be accessed via WiFi outside of many of our facilities so families may utilize those areas if they need high-speed access. In addition, our IT staff is working to distribute mobile hot spots to families who live in areas in which there is cell service that will allow the hot spots to work. We are also working to help make families aware of the availability of Comcast Essentials which is a low-cost option to allow Internet access in those areas in which it is available. It's also important to note that the Chromebooks our students are assigned enable them to download items when they are in an area where Internet access is available and then work on the assignments offline.  The information then syncs when they are in an area with Internet access again.

Fredericksburg City Schools

Fredericksburg City Public Schools is committed to providing a superior education to all students.  It is important that we do everything possible to ensure every child’s success.  Our instructional plan centers on a distance learning model that allows teachers to provide quality instruction to every student in an asynchronous environment.  Additionally, we believe that a synchronous method allows for real-time interaction with teachers and students to maximize social-emotional experiences that are critical to every child’s healthy development.  

Every teacher will hold daily office hours.  This will provide an opportunity for students to connect with teachers for one-on-one assistance and tutorials.  During this time, parents can reach out to teachers to build those important bonds that ensure students will not fall behind.   

Our commitment to equity begins with meeting the needs of our most vulnerable students. On August 26, we will begin in-person therapy sessions with our special needs students.  Additionally, we are also in the process of establishing a plan to provide in-person instruction for students with special needs, early English Learners, and other students who are identified as needing in-person intervention services.  Our expectation is that we will bring our most vulnerable students into schools for face-to-face instruction soon.    

Reaching out to families and letting them know how much we care about the wellbeing and education of their children during this pandemic has been the primary focus of FCPS.  A COVID-19 Community Outreach Committee (COC) was formed in April as a pathway to reaching families in need.  Members of the COC include the division superintendent, school administrators, FCPS employees, parents, members of the Fredericksburg community, as well as social and emotional health providers.  Through the interests and collaboration of this committee, a Family Needs Assessment Survey has been created to address specific needs of the families and students in our community.  As of August 19, we have had 431 families complete the survey.  In addition, the COC has reached out to the Fredericksburg community with a How Can I Help? survey.  This survey assists with the collection of local services, resources and donations to support our families.  Matching our family’s needs with the resources from the community survey allows our school administrators and the COVID Team in each building to provide support and make connections with the students and families during a very difficult time.   

Our preschool program eagerly serves all students. We believe that quality interactions and strong relationships can happen outside of the classroom.  We are providing weekly neighborhood deliveries of materials to children.  Supplies have included dry erase boards, markers, crayons, unfix cubes, tongs, cotton balls, Play-Doh, journals and much more.  Additionally, we are providing instructional materials and lessons to help parents work with our youngest learners.  

Technology and Internet Access: 

We are committed to ensuring every child has access to technology resources.  Devices and internet access are the two main challenges we need to overcome as we enter this school year.  Staff placed orders for devices in early June to provide a school-issued device to every Fredericksburg student.  However, production delays have left us short on the needed quantity for the start of school.  We are making sure all students have access to a device either school-issued or personal as we await the arrival of our shipments.

In regards to internet access, we applied to the FCC in early June for an EBS 2.5 GHz broadcast license to provide internet access directly to families' homes. Unfortunately, our request for that license is still pending.  We are installing 12 solar-powered Wi-Fi hotspots in areas of the city where there is a high density of families with internet needs as well as providing open networks at each school campus.   To ensure the needs of every student are addressed, we are also using survey results to identify families that need internet access and can be connected through COX Virginia.  In partnership with COX, FCPS will cover the cost of the internet connection through the Connect 2 Compete program, for families that qualify.  Finally, we are utilizing LTE hotspots for families that cannot get connected and have no other options available.  

Fredericksburg City Public Schools is committed to providing a superior education to all students.  We want to meet every child’s needs as we care for every child as our own.

Howard County Public Schools

Several organizations in Howard County offer services such as tutoring and other supports and resources for students and families. The HCPSS Community News and Programs page provides information about non-profit organizations that provide services to support families and students.

However, there are several efforts to ensure that vulnerable students are able to be successful in this virtual environment. Many of them are detailed in our Reopening Plan and others are being posted on the website and provided to families as they are finalized.

Technology and Internet Access:

One such effort is ensuring that all students have access to devices and the internet. School staff are currently working with their communities to identify students who need a device and households that are currently without internet access.

HCPSS was recently awarded several grants that allow us to purchase sufficient student devices necessary to eventually achieve a 1:1 ratio for students in all grades pre-K through 12 and retain a 1% reserve of computers for replacement. More information can be found in a recent release.

Internet connectivity will also continue to be available for students based on needs as identified by families, support staff and school administrators. HCPSS has partnered with Bright Minds education foundation to provide internet service to qualifying families that live in areas where there is an Internet Service Provider service (ISP). For qualifying families who have requested internet connectivity and live outside of the ISP area, hot spots will be provided.

Additionally, HCPSS recently received the Broadband for Underserved Populations grant in the amount of $213,649 which supports school districts to assist in providing broadband service to unserved students (through December 2020), based on eligibility criteria for urban and rural households.

Loudoun County Public Schools

Did not respond to our request for information.

Manassas City Public Schools

Did not respond to our request for information.

Manassas Park City Schools

Technology and Internet Access:

We are quite fortunate at MPCS that our division has been fully 1-to-1 with devices for all K-12 students. The spring closure afforded us the opportunity to see where there were gaps and we were able to work throughout the summer to fill those gaps, particularly in the area of internet access. We’ve worked hard to ensure all students are able to participate in virtual and remote learning when the school year starts.

Montgomery County Public Schools

We have set up our virtual schedules in such a way that ensures students have opportunities to receive more individualized support. Students will have multiple opportunities to check in with the teacher throughout the week. Our district isn’t organizing pods or learning hubs, but we’ve shared with our community a number of ways in which we are going to provide parent, student and staff support.

You can read our last community message here.

As well as our draft recovery plan.

Technology and Internet Access:

We are providing all students without access to the internet a wireless hot spot. Our district is also providing all students with Chromebook devices.

Prince George's County Public Schools

We plan to take multiple approaches. First, students will have the opportunity to engage in synchronous instruction or tutoring with a PGCPS teacher.  Schools are also encouraged to use virtual meeting spaces such as Zoom or Google Meet for tutoring. Lastly, we plan to provide live tutoring assistance and to provide books at home for students and families to read for Immersion (full, dual, two-way, and partial programs).

Prince William County Public Schools

Mondays are dedicated to extra support for students, and high schools have additional time every day for support. 

Technology and Internet Access:

We are providing outdoor WiFi spots outside every high school and middle school and some elementary schools. Schools also have information on take-home hot spots and low-cost internet options.

Spotsylvania County Public Schools

Did not respond to our request for information.

Stafford County Public Schools

Our teachers care deeply for their students and will provide them with the support they need to be successful in a virtual learning environment. Constant communication between family and school will be ongoing and critical to supporting all students.

Our Return to School plan includes support and intervention for our most vulnerable students.

Technology and Internet Access:

We are providing Internet café locations, mobile hotspots, and community internet access points.

St. Mary's County Public Schools

Did not respond to our request for information.

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