Bay Area Families Choose Independent Learning During COVID Surge



Bay Area families worried about surge in COVID-19 cases omicron are calling for remote learning options for their children, but school leaders can’t easily or legally revert to the same models in line they used last year without losing public funds.

Last year, California lawmakers allowed an exception for school districts to offer online classes and still receive state funds for student attendance to prevent mass outbreaks, but that option has expired. .

Now, public schools must once again provide in-person instruction to receive attendance funding. And there is little appetite among heads of state to change that.

Assembly Bills 130 and 167, signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in July and September respectively, prohibit schools from using virtual learning as a primary means of instruction. Newsom and other education experts say in-person schooling is the best way for children to learn.

Julia Carpentieri teaches kindergarten students during a virtual class on campus at Liberty Alternative School Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022 in San Jose, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

But that doesn’t sit well with some students and teachers in the Oakland Unified School District. A group of students are boycotting classes until the district responds to their demands — presented in a petition — to provide a safe school environment with regular testing, masks and outdoor eating areas. Another of the requests is that the district offer online instruction again.

The law gives individuals students have the option of attending the school through temporary or permanent independent study programs, but schools are not allowed to use the programs as a means to shut down classrooms altogether. All school districts and county offices of education are required to offer an independent study option as an alternative to in-person instruction this school year.

Juana Saguindel chose this alternative for her fourth grade and kindergarten student at Garin Elementary School in Brentwood. She temporarily enrolled her children in an independent study program before they returned from winter vacation to protect her family from the virus and prevent her children from falling behind. She said she would consider sending them back to class if the cases go down, but she is happy her children are still learning and not at risk at this time.

“On the first day of school, we got a Gmail saying straight away there was a case of COVID,” Saguindel said. “I was like ‘Oh my God.'”

Enrollment has skyrocketed in a new virtual program in Hayward and other parts of the region since last fall, including Oakland and San Jose. The state has allowed districts to decide which model to use, such as online learning, Zoom group classes or individual homework. Even more children have signed up since the omicron wave began in December in some districts.

The Hayward Unified School District had to cancel in-person classes in response to rising COVID-19 cases at the start of school after the Christmas break. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

Oakland currently has 1,092 students enrolled in its Sojourner Truth independent study school, and another 85 students have enrolled in the program since winter break. Cupertino currently has 204 students enrolled — a tenfold increase from previous years — in its program where the district previously averaged 20 to 30 students. Hayward Unified has nearly 490 students enrolled in its new virtual independent study program and traditional independent study program.

San Jose Unified has 492 students enrolled in its program. More San Jose students had applied for independent study at the start of the school year last fall, but officials haven’t seen an increase since returning from vacation in January, said Jennifer Maddox, gatekeeper. district floor.

Hayward Unified has taken more interest in its programs since omicron’s post-holiday push, said district spokeswoman Dionicia Ramos. There is now space in both programs, but capacity is limited due to staff shortages. Ramos also said high school students have more restrictions on when they can enter and exit the virtual independent study program given their semester schedule.

Other parents who want to keep their children in physical classrooms to avoid further learning loss worry about potential school closures. While schools in Cupertino or elsewhere are unlikely to close completely, understaffing remains an issue.

Yi Ding, a parent of a student in the Cupertino Union School District, said he understands if teachers stay home and legitimately worry about their own health, but districts have the data and knowledge about the how to keep virus transmission low. schools.

“Our child had a really hard time with distance learning and definitely fell behind,” Ding said.

Some districts with severe staffing shortages have found ways to temporarily close without losing state funding.

West Contra Costa used two of its “smoke days,” also known as “snow days” or “no students,” days the state assigned the district allowing them to temporarily close for COVID-related purposes, to shut down schools for two days after returning from winter vacation after seeing an increase in omicron cases and staff shortages.

Students head to class after lunch at Collins Elementary School in Pinole, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2021. Due to the new wave of the omicron variant COVID-19, the school will be closed Friday and Sunday. Monday. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

Hayward also temporarily closed schools last week. The district gave families the option of enrolling in independent study or sending their children to classrooms where they would complete online classes under staff supervision. Officials there have said they believe this model meets the criteria for state law.

If principals really can’t find other staffing resources after consulting with their county office of education and the California Department of Education, they can request a waiver for a temporary closure, said Maria Clayton, CDE spokesperson. State law allows school districts to alter the school calendar to change scheduled breaks or add days in the spring to allow for a short-term closure this month if they choose, Clayton said. But it’s not easy.

“Anyone who has worked in a school district understands that negotiating the school calendar is a complicated process, with always many interests to consider. In some cases, academic calendars are finalized several years in advance,” Clayton said.

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