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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

SBUSD Trustee Urges Quick Investment for Distance Learning, as State Ed Chief Downplays Reopening

Santa Barbara school member Kate Ford says it's time "to get serious" about improving and strengthening platforms and teacher training for online learning because it is not safe to reopen schools at this point in the pandemic.

The day after an epic board meeting, in which members heard from health experts, as well as dozens of teachers and parents, testifying about a proposed "hybrid" plan to start the school year with a combination of classroom and distance learning, Ford said she believes the district should "redirect some resources" to beefing up online learning.

"It just seems like we would be really exposing kids and teachers and school staff to lots of things that sound unacceptable to me," Ford said of the hybrid system, which the board had tentatively favored last month.

"There would be a lot of lost time that we could have spent possibly figuring out the best platforms" for distance learning, she added. "The idea is to get serious and find out where the best platforms are, what are they...across the country there are thousands of home schools that do this pretty well."

Ford's comments came as State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said that "most of our districts" in California are likely to start the new school year with distance learning, given current Covid-19 trends, "and that decision I think is a good one."

Over the last week, districts representing over one million of the six million public school students in the state have announced they will not open classrooms next month because of an increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, at least for now.

"I think that if school opened tomorrow, most of our districts would open in distance learning," Thurmond told reporters. “We know that in many communities throughout our state, we’re seeing high rates of infection in the community."

On Tuesday night, more than 700 people joined the Zoom call on which the school board conducted a "study session" about various options for the start of school. About 60 people, a large of portion of them teachers urging a 100 percent distance learning program for fall, gave public comments to the board.

Next Tuesday, the board is to reconvene to consider the latest iteration of plans for ther 2020-21 school year, which will be set forth by new SBUSD Superintendent Hilda Maldonado, who attended her first board meeting last night.

"From last night forward, for the next five days, the leaders of the district, led by (Maldonado) will be scambling to really firm up a proposal," Kate said in our interview, "and I think that in every likelihood, this proposal will involve something about starting with distance learning, but with the ability to pivot to hybrid earning in a nimble and reasonable way."

A former teacher, principal and non-profit executive, Ford has the deepest experience in education of the five board members. Among her other comments to Newsmakers: ,

On the logistics of reopening. "I'm most concerned about the logistics. Educators can take care of educating. But the logistics of how to keep track of kids, how to address...when a child or a teacher is sneezing or coughing or has a sore throat, and then about the slowness of testing that we have in this county right now, and the even slower results, it just seems like we would be really exposing kids and teachers and school staff to lots of things that sound unacceptable to me."

On the safety of returning to classrooms. "I was talking to a friend, an emergency room doctor in the Valley and she was basically saying, 'whose lives are you going to watch over?' It’s not safe right now and we don’t have any reason to believe the surge is going to stop anytime soon."

On criticisms of distance learning last spring. "We've heard lots of concerns about distance learning, and they're real...Lots of things in the spring were band aid approaches and now…the idea is to get serious and find out where the best platforms are, what are they."

On helping overwhelmed parents. "I understand how parents, especially single parents, really need some help with their kids at home, and perhaps we should be focusing more on that, rather than the question of 'go to school, don’t go to school' -- how to give people help. And that's where I think we could be particularly interesting and creative."

On bad information about kids and Covid-19. "I would ask everyone to be very cautious about what they say about Covid-19 and children, because let's remember, kids have been out of school since March, so there really isn’t any good data about kids."

On unfair criticism of teachers. "There is an underlying message (from some in the community) 'teachers, get back to work, you’re supposed to be there, schools have got to reopen, who are you? Are you lazy? Are you ignorant? You know what you need to do.' And I just think it’s so much more complicated than that."

On the community helping out. "When we talk about distance learning, is there some way the community can get more involved – grandparents, neighbors, retired teachers, retired administrators - is there some way that we can help in those homes? Is there some way we can mobilize because we are going to have to do something to show that we are serious about providing support."


You can watch our entire conversation with Kate Ford by clicking below...and the podcast version is here.


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