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When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted in-person learning last year, a wide range of strategies to support virtual classrooms were implemented in schools and districts. Many state education agencies required their districts to submit remote learning plans detailing how they planned to continue serving students and families while school buildings were closed.

As part of the Rural Education Research Alliance, REL Central examined available remote learning plans from Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming. We looked at differences in strategies for developing the infrastructure for remote learning, providing instruction, and providing supports to teachers, students, and parents. We then examined the relationships between proposed strategies in the plans and district characteristics such as rurality, poverty level, and level of Internet connectivity.

What we saw reflected in these early plans was that students in districts with lower Internet connectivity and in rural districts likely faced more challenges to remote learning, with fewer resources available to address those challenges.

Wayne Stewart, superintendent of Glenwood R-8 School District in rural Missouri, summarized the transition to remote learning. “When COVID-19 began impacting schools, no one realized what a monster we were preparing to engage or how little time there would be to prepare,” said Stewart. “Although we were almost totally unprepared, we set in to do everything we could to keep our students from losing what they gained.”

Districts with higher Internet connectivity (in which at least 70% of school-age individuals had access to broadband Internet) were more likely to propose supporting technology infrastructure such as home-based Internet access and devices for students. Districts with higher Internet connectivity and nonrural districts were also more likely to provide supports for teachers, students, and parents.

We also found that educators and education leaders in high-poverty areas throughout the REL Central region proposed more supports for students and parents. The proposed supports included one-on-one meetings between students and teachers and resources for parents on remote learning.

Although we all hoped to be in a different place this fall, the nationwide emergence of the Delta variant and other pandemic-related issues continue to cause challenges for education professionals. Evaluating how successful schools and districts were in implementing their initial remote learning plans and what obstacles still reman can benefit education leaders as they continue to respond to this crisis.

To learn more, read Variations in District Strategies for Remote Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic. You can also explore a series of evidenced-based resources and guidance produced by the RELs to support remote learning on the IES website.