The Elk Grove Unified School District board on July 21 reviewed their district’s new education plan that will have 67,000 students stay at home and undergo “distance learning” at the start of the new school year that begins on Aug. 3.
This plan was presented just a week after Elk Grove Unified joined other K-12 districts across Sacramento County announced they are keeping their campuses closed in August due to the county’s reported rise in COVID-19 infections.
Elk Grove Unified previously moved their students to distance learning this spring after campuses were closed in early March in response to the pandemic. School volunteers lent more than 29,000 Google Chromebook computers to students via a “drive-thru” service in campus parking lots in April.
“Our goal is to eventually go back to school so we can resume our normal activities, but we are not living in normal times right now,” Trustee Bobbie Singh-Allen said during the school board’s online meeting.
She also stressed that students and staff must be safe, and said that “zero is the only acceptable loss of life” at the district’s schools.
The school district’s staff in late June had a “transitional” education plan to reopen their campuses and have students attend class on half-days in order to keep social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Such plans were put on hold two weeks after they were presented to the school board, due to the district’s July 14 move to keep their campuses closed in the late summer.
Elk Grove Unified’s students will now have a class schedule that will have their take online classes on weekday mornings and to work on projects or undergo academic assessments in the afternoons. Classes will have “synchronous” learning or teachers interacting with students live online. This education plan is designed to meet the state’s requirement of offering 240 minutes of class time a weekday.
Trustee Chet Madison complemented the district staff on organizing the education plan in a short amount of time.
“I’m not going to say it’s perfect, but I think we’re heading in the right direction,” he said. “This is going to be a good model and it allows us to tweak it as we move forward.”
Special education students can receive homework packets instead of taking online classes. The district also plans to resume their service of offering meals for students or families to pick up at school parking lots.
Elementary schools on tracks B, C, and D will begin the new school year on Aug. 3, while schools on track A start on Aug. 24. Middle and high schools will start on Aug. 13.
Parents, teachers share concerns over distance learning plan
The Elk Grove school board received numerous comments from parents who believed that only having online classes will be burdensome for their families.
“This option puts additional stress on parents working full-time, childcare workers, and after-school programs,” parent Erin Summers said. “(The education plan) likely reinforces inequities in education for children of color and children of immigrant parents.”
Similar concerns were raised this spring over the district’s online education – many parents said they were challenged by the task of working while also making sure their children engaged in their online classes.
During the school board’s July 21 meeting, a few teachers and parents proposed alternatives such as opening gymnasiums and libraries for classes, or have classes outdoors when the weather is mild this fall.
Several teachers and other community members protested the practice of teachers returning to their campuses and conduct their online classes at the beginning of the school year. They said that practice could expose teachers and school staff to COVID-19.
“Please let teachers choose whether or not they work from home or school,” Jennifer Carter said in a submitted comment. “Teachers are very important and there’s no reason to put them in harm’s way if we don’t need to.”
Trustee Carmine Forcina this summer has been an outspoken advocate of having students return to school full-time this fall, and he was critical of how the district conducted its online learning program this spring.
On July 22, he raised concerns over teachers still continuing to learn how to provide distance learning.
“I think that the (new education) model that has been developed and presented attempts to address many of the issues that were absent in March, April, and May,” Forcina said. “I think that the biggest problem I have is…that our expectation is that teachers will provide quality distance learning while learning how to provide quality distance learning.”
The trustee also asked the district staff about a possible situation where students do not log into their online classes while their parents aren’t home. He said that he heard such a concern from parents.
Susan Larson, the district’s executive director of education services, replied, “We get involved with the parents and we help them in every single way we can.”
The Elk Grove school board’s next meeting will be held online at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 11.