Supervisor Hillary Ronen and her husband found within three days that they needed to scale back plans for her daughter during the school closures. (Courtesy image)

City schools launch formal distance learning plan

After weeks of preparation, San Francisco Unified School District is rolling out a distance learning plan Monday to carry teachers, students and parents through the remainder of the year.

While many parents have been adjusting to homeschooling while working from home or on furlough in recent weeks, SFUSD has been hurrying to developing its first-ever distance learning program. Schools will remain closed for the remainder of the academic year, officials said earlier this week.

The district has hosted webinars for teachers on Google Classrooms, Synergy Gradebook, Screencastify, and other ways to implement distance learning digitally.

“We’re not mandating any system,” said Board President Mark Sanchez, who teaches in Daly City himself. “Google Classroom is a huge priority and we pushed it out.”

Teachers will hold office hours during a set time on Zoom available to students and parents after a lesson.

While training teachers, SFUSD has ramped up digital connections for the estimated 15 percent of students lacking devices or internet access. More than 8,600 Chromebooks have been handed out, including some at the meal pick-up sites, said spokesperson Laura Dudnick, while the City will set up 25 Wi-Fi hotspots each serving 100 people each.

But School Board member Alison Collins is concerned by the focus on technology, rather than on assessing needs first and connecting families to other city agencies. She also feels input from parent, educator, and community organizations like Coleman Advocates input has been missing from the district’s process.

“This isn’t just remote learning, it’s remote learning during a crisis,” Collins said. “ We need to start with a trauma-informed approach, with a culturally responsible approach, that’s where we should have started.”

Some schedules have been sent out, ranging from a relaxed pace with blocks of time and pre-recorded lessons for flexible viewing, to rigidly scheduled class times including a universal lunch break. A 45-page guide for educators advises four hours of daily instruction, either together or apart, with regular interaction and office hours, broken down depending on the grade level.

Collins said some schools schools like Martin Luther King Middle School and some individual teachers have been great at outreach and making sure families are doing okay before assigning work, but it’s not guaranteed on a district level.

“They’re doing what they’re doing despite what we’re pushing out, not because of it,” Collins said. “Me and other commissioners really want to hear from families about what they think is working, what can be improved.”

Though the plan is rolling out on Monday, continual changes will likely be made.

Collins, joined by Board members Faauuga Moliga and Gabriela Lopez, will introduce a resolution on Tuesday calling for a needs assessment to be added to the plan and addressing other concerns. However, Collins said input will be harder to gather because the district suspended parent advisory committees focusing on special education, students of color, and other specific perspectives.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who has a first-grader, said she is excited to at least have direction and goals set by the district. Within three days, the structured plan she and her husband put in place devolved from hour-by-hour activities to simply three hours of learning and one hour of exercise. The past four weeks has had Ronen guilt-ridden that she’s not doing right by her daughter while trying to respond to the crisis as an elected official.

“It’s just gotten more loosey-goosey as we go on,” Ronen said. “Because I don’t have [set] standards, I feel like every single day I’m not doing enough. I think we’re all trying to survive, to find out how to be good parents, good educators, and to get through this and do our jobs well.”

Like all parents of children in transitional kindergarten to second grade, Ronen will be picking up a printed packet of instruction for her daughter.

Collins, Lopez, and Moliga will introduce their resolution at the full Board of Education meeting on Tuesday. District officials recommend regularly checking the website for updates and resources.

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