Children in the Sacramento City Unified School District started the school year with no clear plan for distance learning during the pandemic, following an impasse between the teachers union and administrators over a contract.
As a result, schooling got off to a rocky start for many of the district’s 42,000 students and their families. But parents say the online learning experience varies from school-to-school.
For Alina Cervantes, education couldn’t have started better for her two kids at Phoebe Hearst Elementary in East Sacramento, aside from a hiccup her younger child had logging on to a zoom classroom.
“So far, so good,” Cervantes said, adding that she clocked more than 4 hours of live instruction time where teachers played music for kids, prompted journal exercises and initiated break out rooms for peer-to-peer learning.
“Our teachers are so masterful,” she said.
Gwynnae Byrd had a different story. She has 16-year-old twins, one of whom attends Kennedy High School, and the other C.K McClatchy. They were on different schedules Tuesday.
While her daughter at McClatchy started on the 8:20 a.m. schedule from district administrators, her son wasn’t able to connect with his teacher until 10 a.m.
Byrd said at this early stage, she hasn’t formed an opinion about the quality of education her kids are receiving under distance learning, but she’s concerned that “things are still in such disarray” with the school district.
The school district and the Sacramento City Teachers Association are in a “fact-finding” phase in order to reach an agreement about a distance learning plan, which could take months, according to SCUSD officials.
The amount of live instruction teachers give to students is one of the biggest sticking points.
The district wants a plan that includes more “synchronous” minutes of teaching that includes real-time video instruction, student feedback, and guided small group and peer-to-peer learning.
But the teachers want a plan that involves a higher share of “asynchronous” learning, where students spend more time in self-guided and independent study.
The teachers’ proposal also says that instructors would “exercise their professional judgement” in determining how to execute distance learning. And that teachers will emphasize educational standards “to the extent possible.”
Byrd said going forward, having only two hours of live instruction time, which the teachers’ union proposes for high schoolers, wouldn’t be enough to keep her teenager from being distracted by YouTube.
“I’m a fan of them actually having more on-screen time with the teacher being present, so they’re accountable for that time,” Byrd said.
Union president David Fisher said their proposal was based on input from hundreds of teachers and research about other districts. He said teachers are following the schedules they worked out with their principals, and any confusion about school start times came from the superintendent’s office when it sent out a different schedule over labor day weekend.
Cervantes, who is part of the Facebook group “Parents United to Restore Our Schools,” said her kids have had a great week so far, but students’ learning experiences “vary so greatly across the district.”
She said she believes the disparity is because there is no agreement in place between teachers and the school district about the distance learning plan.
Nate McGill, principal at Ethel Baker Elementary in South Sacramento, said the school week for their 600 students got off to a great start, save for minor issues with internet connectivity. He said their instructors used the district’s schedule, so families could rely on predictable times for the start of the day, class and lunch.
“With that schedule being consistent, we have the ability to offer [an] equitable product, and without a doubt, that’s what every family deserves,” McGill said.
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