Ellen Yin-Wycoff’s parents are in their 80s and 90s. She and her daughter, a seventh grader, help take care of them. So when it came time for her daughter to go back to school this September, Yin-Wycoff was faced with a tough choice.
“Do I risk sending my daughter to school where potentially she could test positive for COVID or get a breakthrough infection,” Yin-Wycoff asked.
She said she was not only worried about the health of her daughter, but that of her elderly parents, who would also be vulnerable to transmission and would go without care if the family had to quarantine.
So Yin-Wycoff signed her daughter up for independent study through Sacramento City Unified School district. But over a week after school started, she said she was in the dark about what her daughter’s education will look like and is frustrated about the lack of communication from district officials.
“This is really an issue of equity,” Yin-Wycoff said. “The students that are in independent study need to also have...the same type of educational opportunities.”
Families of roughly 1,600 other students in the district made similar decisions to keep their kids enrolled in the district, but learn at home through the pandemic. That’s about 4% of the overall student population of roughly 40,000 kids in Sacramento City schools.
But more than one week into the school year, approximately 1,200 students still have not been assigned a teacher, according to the district, and remain in limbo about what their children’s schooling will look like.
District Superintendent Jorge Aguilar said the district is “doing everything that we possibly can,” to staff up Capital City School, which will facilitate enrolled students who are learning at home this year. Capital City School was the district’s independent study program before the pandemic, but Aguilar said it needs 23 more teachers to meet the new demand.
The district says the independent study program should be more established in the next couple of weeks.
Shawnda Westly said her third grade child was just accepted into the independent study program at Capital City School, but has not yet seen a teacher. She called the superintendent’s safety plan “lackluster,” and doesn’t want to send her kids back to school until it feels safer.
“I want them to have consistent online learning for any one who wants it,” Westly said.
Westley, along with dozens of other parents, have been pushing the district for more answers about the independent study program since Aug. 10.
In one of three letters shared with CapRadio that parents sent to district board members over the summer, parents said they were concerned about the district’s “lack of effective communication” and “lack of proactive work” to prepare for kids to keep learning at home during the pandemic.
In the letter dated Aug. 24, parents inquired about instructional time for independent study students, and posed questions about the district’s safety protocols such as contact tracing and mask-wearing during recess.
Superintendent Jorge Aguilar told CapRadio he was sorry for families who feel their children’s education is in limbo.
He said the district wanted to design a more robust program than what is required under state legislation, but hadn’t been able to settle on a plan with teachers and staff before the start of school.
“I should have, at an earlier point, made the decision that we might not reach an agreement around the independent study program that we had planned,” Aguilar said. “And by the time that decision was made, we did not have sufficient time to properly operationalize it.”
He added: “I owe an apology to all of our students who are deeply frustrated.”
Yin-Wycoff’s daughter is one of roughly 400 students already accepted into the Capital City independent study program. She had her first meeting with a teacher on Sept. 9, but she is still waiting for more information about educational materials such as textbooks, a syllabus, and the teacher meeting schedule.
Yin-Wycoff said in order to send her daughter back in person, she would need to see higher vaccination rates and lower COVID-19 cases in Sacramento. The COVID-19 test positivity rate in Sacramento is 6.3% as of Sept.13, higher than the 4.4% state average.
Yin-Wycoff said she would also like the school district to implement mandatory testing of teachers and students. Right now, the district offers school-based COVID testing, but it is not mandatory.
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