SFUSD Distance Learning

Is long-term distance learning causing additional stress to students?

Senior being scammed
8th Grader's Petition Protests Distance Learning

I am an 8th grade student in SFUSD and I attend a public middle school. At my school, we have online meetings on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, plus additional meetings if teachers organize them. We have many assignments every week (I have experienced 43 google classroom notifications within 48 hours). I have to get up early to attend online classes just as if it’s actually school. School has become more demanding due to the pressure of hands-on learning. We do not truly have a place where we can check what we need to do, therefore it’s very hard to keep track of the work. I spend an average of 2 hours per day on schoolwork.

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Some parents lost employment due to the coronavirus and simply don't have the money to pay bills and pay for necessities. It is no wonder some are falling behind due to stressful factors and distractions in their home life.

Mental health hotlines have seen up to 897% increases in calls, and I can only assume many are from students feeling isolated. I worry about my friends who, due to severe economic inequality, are unable to keep up with the pace of online classes. This inequality is amplified by distance learning. Some do not have easy access to electronic devices, some are not familiar with computers, or have no wi-fi access. A lot of the students at my school are not privileged to have a two-parent household, or a consistent schedule with their parents. Some parents lost employment due to the coronavirus and simply don't have the money to pay bills and pay for necessities. It is no wonder some are falling behind due to stressful factors and distractions in their home life.

How can SFUSD expect everyone to focus on schoolwork? This is not a few students — 55% of SFUSD students are socioeconomically disadvantaged. While I am not subject to child abuse myself, it is happening and it shouldn’t be swept under the rug. While long-term social distancing is enforced, the school district should not be causing additional stress to students. I do not think it is reasonable to expect students to continue completing work and attending all online classes.

At home, the quarantine makes me feel that I’m always getting in the way, and that I don’t have my own space. I have been taking walks and learning how to cook (a life skill that isn’t taught in schools, even online) to deal with it.

With study-at-home, SFUSD students lack social interaction with peers, do not get free time with friends, miss out on the entire social aspect of school, and most likely will not be able to participate in school dances and after-class activities or year-end activities such as graduation. While students have been stripped of many of their rights and privileges, yet the school district expects them to maintain all their responsibilities.

These are some of the reasons I have started a petition to allow for exemption from online classes and schoolwork, and I ask that the district stop mandatory online classes and assignments and make them optional.

The school district needs to take student's mental health seriously. It should discourage teachers from assigning excessive work and scheduling extra meetings.

For additional information about my petition, please visit its website. change.org/sfusdonline

Charles' Petition

April-May 2020

On the Frontline:

Distance Learning at SFUSD
language barriers K. Rolph Morales

Whether for better or worse, teachers are often on the front line. Now, teachers are — again — called upon to rise to the calling and ensure that San Francisco’s students are receiving the best possible education as Covid-19 leads us to implement distance learning at SFUSD.

I teach at a struggling Title 1 school in San Francisco. (Title 1 is a federally funded program that assists schools with the highest concentrations of poverty). At the elementary school where I teach, connecting with parents is a challenge because parents are struggling to make ends meet and provide for their children.

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When a student’s parents are English speakers, it is somewhat easier ... But often our parents speak a heritage language with no standardized spelling. Dialects are common ... when parents speak Tzeltal (Mexico) or Mam (Guatamala) ... teachers must innovate ...

District and school administrators in the SFUSD have done extraordinarily well at working to roll out teacher training and information sessions to provide continuous learning, so students don’t fall behind.

Most educators are adept in online navigating and using mobile apps for education purposes. As teachers, we report attendance and other issues through online data entry. But reaching parents is a challenge. Teachers must now teach parents how to access the internet from home, how to open email accounts, how to navigate browsers and search engines from a computer or borrowed Chromebook. We must also teach them what it will mean for students to work from home. It is fortunate that many teachers are certificated to teach Adult Education by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, because this, in fact, is what we’ve been doing since schools closed and we attempt to bring continuity to our students’ daily lives and routines.

When a student’s parents are English speakers, it is somewhat easier; general education and special education or dayschool educators can reach out and speak directly with families and guardians. But often our parents speak a heritage language with no standardized spelling. Dialects are common. When parents speak, read, and write languages such as Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, or Vietnamese, teachers work with translators to ensure we communicate. But when parents speak Tzeltal (Mexico) or Mam (Northern and Southern Mam of Guatemala are as different as Spanish and Portuguese), teachers must innovate and independently find ways to reach out and establish a sense of connection with families who may lack resources.

For better or worse, teachers are often the topic of support or derision. Attitudes towards teachers are often based on personal experience, anecdotal observations, and involvement with teachers, as parents.

Cultural responses to the pandemic and socializing vary

Educators may not recognize the hidden suffering of stigmatized ethnic and language communities. Challenges emerge, as teachers reach out by phone, to develop rapport and a sense of familiarity with families and their needs, often finding disconnected phones or family members reticent to discuss their problems. During the pandemic, community members think and act in ways that are consistent with their cultural customs.

In spite of challenges to educators in the SFSUD, based on language, and cultural customs and beliefs, there are many hopeful signs. Some parents now see this as an exciting opportunity to learn how to keyboard and use the Internet. Others are putting their trust and confidence in the teacher’s mission. Parents are often creative, seeking work-arounds to bridge language and cultural gaps with their children’s teachers. This confidence families give us, gifted to us from stressed, yet pragmatic parents, helps inspire our sense of dedication to society.

As we navigate the variables in our student populations, I am proud of the way our teachers are adapting to the technical demands, straddling the myriad cultural pitfalls and bringing their best to the worst possible circumstances our classrooms face.

K. Rolph Morales, Ph.D.

Ms. Morales is a certificated bilingual teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District, specializing in indigenous languages and cultures of the Americas. Please support local newspapers and radio stations.

April-May 2020